PARIS -- Neurotech has completed a second funding round just a week after moving into new premises at France's Génopôle, the biotechnology business and research park set up in Evry, 35 kilometers south of Paris, and officially inaugurated on Oct. 23. The company has raised FFr82 million (US$14.5 million) from a group of European venture capitalists, with newcomers accounting for around 70 percent of the total.

The new investors are 3i plc, of the U.K. (lead investor); Antwerp, Belgium-based GIMV; IMH, of Hannover, Germany; Private Equity Holdings AG, of Zug, Switzerland; Sudinnova, of Lyon, France; and Banque de Vizille, also of Lyon. The other 30 percent was provided by Neurotech's four existing investors: Atlas Venture, Sofinnova Partners, CDC Innovation and Codexi, all of Paris. The largest shareholder in the company remains Atlas, which now has around 10 percent, followed closely by 3i and CDC Innovation.

The funds will enable Neurotech to carry through Phase I/II clinical trials of a therapy for glioblastoma using NTC-121, an immortalized endothelial cell line that secretes human interleukin (IL)-2. The trials, designed to establish the clinical safety and efficacy of Neurotech's endothelial cell technology, are due to begin early in 1999, and Phase I results are expected before the year end.

CEO Tom Shepherd told BioWorld International the amount raised corresponds to a research and development budget of three years, adding that future funding would depend on the outcome of clinical trials. "If we get strong results after Phase I, we could go for an [initial public offering (IPO)], but otherwise we might need another private funding round." Shepherd acknowledged that an IPO would also be predicated on the conclusion of strategic agreements with large pharmaceutical companies, but said he would not start negotiating any deals until the company had established proof of principle of its technology.

In mid-1999, Neurotech plans to embark on clinical trials of a therapy for age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) that involves the use of epithelial cell vectors. Shepherd considers this to have greater commercial potential than the glioblastoma therapy, since ARMD is the leading cause of blindness in adults and there is no cure at present. A third product in preclinical development is an endothelial cell therapy for the treatment of stroke. At a more general level, the company is developing systemic delivery technology which will enable its cell-based vectors to be administered to the brain via systemic circulation, and it plans to use some of the funds just raised to speed up this program.

Neurotech, founded in 1995, is developing cell-based therapies exclusively for disorders of the central nervous system (CNS). The immortalization of cell lines enables them to live longer in vitro than normal cells, so they can be grown in large quantities without going out of control the way cancer cells do. In the case of both epithelial and endothelial cells, they are genetically modified to secrete therapeutic peptides or proteins locally in the CNS. The company claims its endothelial cell vectors are unique among therapy vectors, in that they can be targeted directly at sites of angiogenesis (the sites where new blood vessels are formed, including those associated with tumors). In the case of NTC-121, the secretion of IL-2 stimulates the immune system and, when used to treat cancer, causes the immune system to attack the tumor. *