LONDON - Evolutec Ltd., a discovery and development company specializing in immunotherapeutics derived from the saliva of ticks, raised #2.7 million (US$4 million) in its second round of fund raising.

The money will enable the company to commence clinical trials of its lead product for allergic conjunctivitis, continue preclinical development of its asthma product, and enlarge its patent portfolio.

CEO Clive Bennett told BioWorld International that although the environment has improved this year, biotechnology is still in competition with dot-com startups for funding. "There is a certain amount of money out there and it tends to follow the fashion. It was hard work, but we are pleased with the outcome."

The money is expected to last for 18 months. "This is not the longest period of time, but because of past experience people don't want to fund you for longer," Bennett said.

Evolutec, based in Oxford, England, was founded in September 1998 with #1.8 million. It has a five-year agreement with the government-funded Natural Environment Research Council giving it exclusive rights to develop and exploit research on arthropods carried out at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxford. The center, formerly the Institute for Virology and Environmental Microbiology, is directed by Patricia Nuttall, a virologist and expert in the field of arthropod-borne diseases. She was involved in the formation of Evolutec.

Arthropods, including ticks, which carry viral diseases, feed on their hosts for extended periods. In the case of ticks, they can be attached for up to two weeks. Immune-modulating molecules in their saliva prevent the host immune system from reacting to their presence. Evolutec also is working on vaccines against the viral diseases carried by ticks.

Bennett expects the clinical trial in allergic conjunctivitis to begin later this year in the U.S. "Most of the preparatory work is done and now we have the money; I expect to get things going pretty quickly."

Evolutec intends to out-license its compounds once it has proof of efficacy in Phase II. Bennett said he is in active discussions with potential partners. He hopes to do a deal on allergic conjunctivitis and other molecules. "We have molecules and decent data, and that will attract pharmaceutical partners."

To date the company has identified more than 100 biologically active molecules and progressed six into preclinical development.

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