LONDON - Oxford Biomedica plc raised #8.5 million (US$12.8 million) in a private placing to finance a new genomics subsidiary, and said it will raise a further #30 million early next year when it qualifies to move to a full listing on the London Stock Exchange.

The private placing involved the issue of 14.6 million new shares, or 9.2 percent of the company, which is currently listed on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM). The shares were 60 pence each, a small discount to the closing price of 63.5 pence Aug. 9, the day before the fund raising was announced.

Finance Director Andrew Wood told BioWorld International, "We are very pleased because the private placing was a very quick and efficient way to raise money, and we have attracted a number of new institutional investors. We were very well received and have set the stage for a further fund raising when we move up to the main market."

The new genomics division will adapt two elements of the company's core gene therapy technologies for gene discovery and target validation. First, it will use LentiVector, a viral vector based on equine infectious anemia virus, for target validation, by a knock-in system. AstraZeneca and Aventis already have signed deals around this technology, and Oxford Biomedica, based in Oxford, England, said others are under discussion.

The second technology arm involves using gene delivery systems to improve the output of genomic and proteomic screens, by selectively amplifying the activity of disease-related genes. "Rather than looking at all genes, we do a subtractive comparison of normal and diseased tissue," Wood said.

The company has validated the technology, called Smartomics, by delivering genes to macrophages in a normal state and macrophages in hypoxia, in which condition they are implicated in cancer, atherosclerosis and arthritis. "We know enough about the mechanisms of hypoxia regulation to cause those genes that are upregulated by hypoxia to be upregulated with a vengeance. This improves the signal to noise ratio; in other words, it is a much more focused screen."

Fewer genes are switched on, but the ones that are would be more likely to be involved in disease. "We believe this is a more powerful system for drug discovery and that we will be able to write fuller and better patents because we will be able to identify genes that are directly and mechanistically involved in a disease process, as opposed to simply describing genes that may have an undefined association with a disease," he said.

Wood said now that the Smartomics system has been validated in hypoxia regulation, it will be possible to adapt it to other metabolic pathways taken from the literature. "The aim is to develop a library of genes which are causally related to disease processes."

"By focusing down in this way we can find relevant genes without having an army of people or loads of robots."

Twenty staff will be recruited to the genomics division, and the #8.5 million will fund it for three years, when it is forecast to be cash positive.

Oxford Biomedica will become eligible for a full listing on the LSE later this year when its second product, TroVax, enters clinical trials. "TroVax is going well and, depending on the market, we should go up early next year. We have always wanted three to four years working capital to properly push our gene therapy product development, and will aim to raise around #30 million," Wood said.

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