PARIS - Immuno-Designed Molecules (IDM) has completed another private funding round, in which it raised US$15 million from a group of existing and new shareholders. A second tranche of US$3 million to US$5 million could be arranged in the coming weeks, according to Chairman and CEO Yves Fouron. Before the latest financing, IDM had raised a total of $14 million since its inception in December 1993, most from venture capitalists.

The five venture capital companies that were already shareholders of the company participated in the latest funding round. Fouron declined to name the newcomers, beyond disclosing that one of them is Paribas, the French investment bank that recently produced a bullish investors' report on the company. Despite the volatility of biotech shares on France's Nouveau Marché and other markets recently, Fouron said the funding was arranged “on terms that were very favorable for us.“

Paris-based IDM, which specializes in the development of cell therapies for cancer, received much of its seed capital from the French venture capital company Sofinnova Capital II. The company's last funding round dates back to January 1997, when it raised FFr37 million (US$7.2 million) from four new shareholders - Apax Partners, Atlas Venture Fund III, Banexi Ventures and CDC Innovation. (See BioWorld International, Jan. 8, 1997, p. 1.)

Fouron told BioWorld International the latest funding operation should be the last before the company launches an initial public offering, probably toward the end of 1999. The company has not yet decided on which of the three possible stock exchanges - the Nouveau Marché, the Easdaq or the Nasdaq - it will seek a listing. Its choice will depend on the situation of each market at the time and the size of the company and its offering, Fouron said.

He expects IDM to start generating revenue in the coming months, and predicts that sales in 1999 could amount to FFr15 million to FFr20 million. That might be enough for the company to move into profit. Its work force is expanding rapidly, having grown from a handful at the beginning of 1997 to 30 now, and Fouron expects it to be up to 40 by the year's end.

The new funds will enable IDM to speed up its research and development program, including clinical trials of several products, as well as launch new research programs to extend the application of its proprietary ex vivo cell therapies to other cancers. It is developing two families of cell therapy technology; one uses macrophage activated killer (MAK) cells to boost the capacity of the patient's immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells, while the other uses macrophage-dendritic (MAC-DC) cells that are re-injected as a cellular vaccine to initiate a powerful immune response.

Therapies Tested Against Various Cancers

IDM has obtained 10 patents for these technologies - five in Europe, four in the U.S. and one in Australia. Sixteen more patent applications are pending in Europe and the U.S., Fouron said.

The therapies are supplied to clinicians in the form of integrated processors, or kits, so they are technically medical devices and not medicines. The MAK cell processor received the European Union's (EU's) medical device certification in December 1997, which allowed marketing in all EU countries. At present, however, IDM takes no charge for the processors it supplies, since Phase II trials are continuing and it receives the trial results in return. When its relationships with clinics and hospitals evolve onto a more commercial footing, it will charge $2,500 for the single-use processor.

The MAK therapy is being tested in ovarian and bladder cancers, while a variant of the same technology, MAK cells with bispecific antibodies (MAK-Bab), is now in Phase I/II trials for ovarian, breast and prostate cancers. Trials of another variant, MAK cells with monoclonal antibodies (MAK-Mab), are scheduled for next year.

As for the MAC-DC therapy under development, it is to be tested in melanoma and prostate cancer, with trials scheduled to start before the end of this year. At the same time, a cell processor for MAC-DCs is being developed, and IDM will be submitting that for medical device certification next year.

Meanwhile, IDM is negotiating co-development and production distribution agreements with various companies in Europe and the U.S., and Fouron told BioWorld International he expects to sign at least one co-development agreement and one product distribution agreement before the end of this year. The virtue of teaming up with an American company is that such a deal could help get FDA approval for IDM's products, and Fouron said it's “very possible“ that one or another of the upcoming agreements would be with an American partner. *