By Mary Welch

Structural GenomiX (SGX) raised $32 million in venture financing aimed at building its "sequence to structure" database for the analysis of high-value protein structures for use in drug and compound discovery.

"This was slightly more than we were looking for," said Tim Harris, the company's president and CEO. "There was a tremendous interest out there. For strategic reasons, we increased the round because of the quality of the investors. It was well worth it."

The round was led by the Sprout Group, of Menlo Park, Calif., and included new investors Lombard Odier & Cie Ltd. and Index Ventures, both of Geneva, Switzerland, and Vulcan Northwest, of Bellevue, Wash. Existing investors who participated included Atlas Venture, of Boston; Prospect Venture Partners, of Palo Alto, Calif.; and Apple Tree Partners, of Westport, Conn.

"I think the investors are realizing that structural genomics is an up-and-coming area - part functional genomics and part proteomics," Harris said. "They are seeing that structural information can give you clues of the biological function and templates of new therapeutics. With this round, we can build a platform very quickly and build a first-class database with value added. Our database, when used with functional genomics techniques, will provide unprecedented insight into the biochemical functions of many targets. We will also be automating the processes to a considerable degree."

Since its founding a year ago, SGX has raised more than $40 million, including this second round. This current series should last the company about two and a half years, Harris said.

"It's a very capital-intensive buildup but fortune favors the brave," he said. "We've been pretty bullish and it's going reasonably well. I think it's a matter of good fortune rather than judgment that we were doing this round during the open window for biotech companies. I'd like to say it was our good judgment, but it's not."

The funding also will allow SGX to move "forcefully" ahead toward the goal of solving 5,000 structures in five years, Harris said. "Specifically, we plan to more than double the number of people we employ within the year, to automate significant portions of our pipeline, to initiate target-driven alliances, and to build a comprehensive annotated structural database."

SGX now has more than 30 employees.

The San Diego-based company was formed to take the available genomics information and apply a genomics approach to structure determination. Instead of targeting a single gene from one organism for structure determination, SGX will express a set of homologues of the target. By solving the structure of any one member of a set, information on the whole group is obtained. SGX scientists choose targets from a diverse group of protein targets, including protein families that include proven drug targets, proteins implicated in diseases and proteins involved in biological systems of particular interest to industry

The 3-dimensional protein structures that SGX generates will impact target validation, rational drug design, pesticide discovery and industrial catalysis through a value-added database and customized structural solutions, the company said. SGX uses high-throughput X-ray crystallography to transform DNA sequence into 3-dimensional protein structures whose shapes and charges reveal functional information that can be used to develop drugs and compounds.