Darwin Molecular Corp., which uses genomics technologies in itsdrug discovery efforts, said Friday it raised $30 million in a privateplacement.

The Seattle company said about one-third of the financing came fromexisting investors on its board of directors.

Among the board members participating in this round were WilliamGates III and Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft Corp.; LloydCotsen, former chairman and CEO of Neutrogena; George Rathmann,chairman and CEO of ICOS Corp.; and Ronald Cape, Darwin'sfounder and chairman. Hambrecht & Quist LLC, of New York,placement agent for the offering, also participated, as did Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc. Both companies are represented on the Darwinboard.

New investors included various health care funds and investors fromJapan and Europe.

In the past year Darwin and collaborators identified genes related toWerner's syndrome, a genetic disease that accelerates aging, and toearly onset Alzheimer's disease.

While the company's techniques are genomics-based, the focus atDarwin is the discovery of therapeutic molecules, said President andCEO Greg Abbott. "We're eclectic in the way we acquire geneticinformation; it reaches commonality in the molecular biology," hesaid.

"We were gratified with the response we got from prospectiveinvestors," Abbott said. "It says a lot about what's been accomplishedby the scientific team within the company and the promise that hasfor the future."

Darwin effectively was started in the fall of 1994 with $3 million inseed money. That year the company brought in $16.5 million in aSeries A financing, and $5 million from Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, ofCollegeville, Pa. Darwin is participating in Rhone-Poulenc Rorer'sbroad gene therapy and genomics network, called RPR Gencell, butis not actively in a funded collaboration with the network or thepharmaceutical company.

Establishing corporate collaborations is one of the two majorpriorities at Darwin, Abbott said. The other is identification of leadsmall-molecule compounds, most likely in the area of autoimmunediseases, the company's principal focus.

Abbott said the financing should fund privately held Darwin for morethan two years. Importantly, he said, it gives Darwin flexibility indeciding when it may want to test the public markets.

The key at Darwin, Abbott said, is to understand the biologicalfunction of genes and genetic information that are identified or usedin its research. Cell-based assays based on biological function areconstructed. Then they are used to identify small-moleculecompounds.

"We're genomics-based, but not pure genomics," Abbott said. "Wecollect genetic information from a variety of sources." The genediscoveries were made in collaboration with Gerard Schellenberg ofthe Seattle Veterans Administration Hospital.

Darwin's approach to autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis andrheumatoid arthritis, is based on the manipulation of T cells at thespecific antigen receptor level. It also is trying to identify molecularmarkers of certain cancers, initially prostate and ovarian cancers. n

-- Jim Shrine

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.