By Randall Osborne

With $9 million of initial financing in its coffers, Ciblex Corp. — spun out of Prizm Pharmaceuticals Inc. and funded by venture capital investors — aims to develop small molecule drugs that block the export of disease-associating proteins from cells, without affecting normal protein secretion.

"Most proteins are secreted," said Steven Mendell, president and CEO of San Diego-based Ciblex. "We say these are exported." Prizm, which merged in May with Matrigen Inc., also is located in San Diego. (See BioWorld Today, May 7, 1998, p. 1.)

"We took technology out of Prizm not related to the gene-therapy core, and formed a new company around that technology," Mendell said.

The technology focuses on developing drugs called Exhibins. Researchers have found a pathway that specifically releases certain growth factors, cytokines and other proteins from cells. Blocking their export could lead to new classes of drugs to treat inflammation, osteoporosis, cancer and infectious diseases.

"Our theory is, if you can block the release at the cell surface, and not later on, you can have a positive therapeutic benefit," Mendell told BioWorld Today. "We're building a patent position around the mechanism of release, and we've developed a small-molecule screening program to identify compounds."

The class of exported molecules includes proteins such as fibroblast growth factors, interleukin-1 and interleukin-18, and bacterial virulence factors, all of which are well understood but never have been successfully inhibited.

Other approaches have sought to neutralize the exported proteins with antibodies or with small molecules to block their action on cells.

Falcon Technologies Inc., of Philadelphia led the first round of financing, which netted $9 million. Investors also include Biotechnology Investments Ltd., of London; Biotechvest LP, of Chicago; and Domain Partners III, of Princeton, N.J. *