By Karen Pihl-Carey

In what may be the largest placement by a private European biotechnology company, Genmab AS raised $40.5 million to advance the development of four human antibodies and to expand its portfolio with additional products.

Separately, Medarex Inc. - the company from which Genmab spun off - entered into its 22nd partnership involving the HuMAb-Mouse technology, this time with MedImmune Inc..

For Genmab, the financing means stability for the next few years. It is a significant deal, said Lisa Drakeman, president and CEO of the Copenhagen, Denmark-based company. "As far as we can tell, this is a record for a European biotech private company.

"This is really an event that changes the company dramatically, I think," she told BioWorld Today. "Not only do we have significantly more resources, but we also have a new set of investors that validate the company and its management."

Index Ventures, of Geneva, Switzerland, led the financing, which included new investors Apax Europe IV, of the Channel Islands, and Lombard Odier Immunology Fund, of Geneva. Existing investors participating included BankInvest, Lonmodtagernes Dyrtidsfond and AS Dansk Erhvervsinvestering, all of Copenhagen. Medarex, of Princeton, N.J., also invested in the round.

Drakeman said the money will go toward advancing HuMax-CD4, Genmab's lead product, which is in Phase I/II trials to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The studies are being conducted at three Danish clinical centers, she said, and the product should move into two Phase II trials later this year in psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. So far, the company has seen no safety issues, Drakeman said.

The financing also will help move three other products - HuMax-Il15 to treat inflammatory conditions, and two antibodies to treat cancer - into the clinic within the next two years. Drakeman said the company will expand its portfolio with additional products through this financing.

"It's certainly enough money for three more years, and probably more than that, depending on how many new products we bring into the company," she said.

To date Genmab has raised $60 million since its inception 15 months ago. It now has $55 million on hand. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 30, 1999, p. 1.)

"I think this is an unusually large financing at a time when financing is not easy. I think it's a real testimony to the technology and to the company that we were able to do that," Drakeman said.

She added that the company originally intended to raise $31 million, but found a high investor interest and was able to raise more. Genmab did the financing on its own, so it does not have to pay banker fees.

"The fact that we can go out and do a private placement like this without a banker in a tough market, I think, is a very good endorsement of Genmab," Drakeman said.

The company has the ability to create 100 percent human monoclonal antibodies in transgenic mice using Medarex's HuMAb-Mouse technology. Typically, antibody-based products have contained mouse or other animal proteins that potentially elicit allergic responses or other complications, the company said.

Medarex's HuMAb-Mouse technology has been the subject of several collaborations over the last year, with the latest involving MedImmune, of Gaithersburg, Md. The two companies signed an agreement to develop fully human antibodies to multiple antigens using the technology.

Under the agreement, MedImmune will receive an exclusive, worldwide license for the use of the technology to develop antibodies against respiratory syncytial virus and an option to further license the use of the technology for additional antigens. Aside from technology access fees, Medarex could receive license and milestone payments, as well as royalties on product sales.

Earlier this month, Medarex entered a transgenic-mouse collaboration with Corixa Corp., of Seattle, to develop fully human monoclonal antibodies for cancer, autoimmune disorders and infectious diseases. It also signed an agreement with Biosite Diagnostics Inc., of San Diego, to accelerate drug research using Trans-Phage Technology, a combination of the HuMAb-Mouse and Omniclonal phage display capabilities. (See BioWorld Today, June 8, 2000, p. 1; and June 2, 2000, p. 1.)

Medarex also has agreements involving the HuMAb-Mouse technology with, among others, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Tarrytown, N.Y.; Eos Biotechnology Inc., of South San Francisco; and Centocor Inc., of Malvern, Pa., among several others.