A La Jolla, Calif.-based biotechnology start-up company, focusingon combinatorial chemistry, has raised $2.2 million in seed financingand is positioning itself to take advantage of the growing number ofdrug targets derived from genomics research.

CombiChem Inc. was founded in August 1994 with technologylicensed from Sydney Brenner, a member of the Scripps ResearchInstitute in La Jolla and an honorary professor of genetic medicine atthe University of Cambridge in England. Brenner also is a memberof CombiChem's scientific advisory board.

Investors for the $2.2 million in initial financing are ForwardVentures, of San Diego, and Sequoia Capital, of Menlo Park, Calif.

Robert Curtis, CombiChem's president and CEO, told BioWorld,"Right now we see ourselves as a service company, doing contractresearch for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. We havea different approach to our business plan. We hope to break even inthree to four years."

Curtis said he expects to accomplish that task by generating revenuesearlier than the traditional biotechnology start-ups, which focus ondrug development.

"In the future, we may do some of our own drug discovery," he said.

Combinatorial chemistry involves the synthesis of large numbers ofsmall molecule compounds which are then screened for potentialtherapeutic activity.

The rapid progress being made by genomics researchers inpinpointing the genetic activity involved in diseases has boosted thenumber of targets for drug discovery and the demand forcompounds.

Peter Bick, general partner in Sequoia, said CombiChem differs fromother combinatorial chemistry companies in that it can easily transferits technology to its pharmaceutical and biotechnology customers.

CombiChem has "an automated method for creating library systemswhich is simple, small and licensable," Bick said.

Another advantage, Bick observed, is Curtis, whose backgroundincludes senior management posts at Pharmacopeia Inc., ofPrinceton, N.J., Cambridge Neuroscience Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.,and Pfizer Inc., of New York.

"Bob Curtis is a deal maker," Bick said. "And what you need in thisindustry now is someone who can make deals."

Curtis joined CombiChem in November and said he is in the processof assembling his management team. The company currently has 10employees.

In addition Brenner, the other three members of the company'sfounding scientific advisory board _ Dale Boger, Kim Janda andChi-Huey Wong _ are associated with Scripps. Boger is the Richardand Alice Cramer Professor of Chemistry at Scripps. Janda isassociate professor of molecular biology and chemistry. Wong is theErnest Hahn Professor of Chemistry at Scripps. n

-- Charles Craig

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