By Mary Welch

Dyax Corp. raised $31 million in a private placement to develop products based on its phage display technology.

"It provides us with the leverage to break even by 2000," said Henry Blair, chairman and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Dyax, adding that he wants the company to establish "a product-based strategy, rather than one reliant on licensing and collaborative agreements."

Plans for an initial public offering (IPO) during the summer were scrapped because of poor market conditions, he said. In March, Dyax filed for an IPO of 2.5 million shares, but did not release an expected price range. (See BioWorld Today, March 30, 1998, p. 1.)

The company plans to broaden its drug-discovery programs and advance lead compounds for therapeutics and in vivo diagnostic imaging, Blair said. Dyax also expects to dedicate more resources to development of separation products, including a new generation of affinity chromatography products based on the high-throughput phage display platform.

Phages are viruses that infect bacteria. Dyax engineers them to express small structure peptides, among which the company then searches for those that bind most specifically to a targeted molecule. Dyax said phage display technology allows for the screening of up to hundreds of millions of compounds over short periods of time. For separation products, the technology provides a means of identifying and capturing desired molecules from complex mixtures. Dyax has licensed its technology to more than 30 companies.

As part of its own drug-development program, Dyax has developed two therapeutic leads: one for pulmonary diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, which is partnered with Debiopharm SA, of Lausanne, Switzerland; and another for hereditary angioedema, a potentially fatal inflammatory disorder, with Genzyme Corp., of Cambridge, Mass.

In the Debiopharm collaboration, Dyax is focusing on using its lead human neutrophil elastase inhibitor, EPI-HNE-4, in cystic fibrosis.

The company also has a number of therapeutic and diagnostic discovery programs. On the therapeutic side, Dyax is developing leads for rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. On the diagnostic end, the company is developing an agent to image inflammation and infection sites as an aid in the diagnosis of fevers of unknown origin. Also under way is a program to image blood clots for deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli.

Dyax develops, manufactures and sells fully integrated chromatography separations systems under the Biotage trade name. The company has sold its purification products to more than 400 pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. Dyax was incorporated in 1989 under the name Biotage Inc., and merged with Protein Engineering Corp. in 1995.

The financing was lead by HealthCare Ventures LLP, of Cambridge, Mass., and Alta Partners, of San Francisco. Participants in the round included new investors: Rho Management Trust, of New York; Genzyme; Charter Growth Capital, of Palo Alto, Calif.; and ING Baring Furman Selz, of New York.

Existing Dyax investors who participated in this round include Loeb Partners, of New York; BancBoston Ventures, of Boston; Hambrecht & Quist LLC, of San Francisco; and New York Life Insurance Co., of New York. ING and Pacific Growth Equities, of San Francisco, acted as placement agents for a portion of the funding. n