Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals Inc. (RPI) announced Thursday thatit has just raised $12 million in a second round of privatefinancing.

The financing group included all the firms that participated inRibozyme's first round of financing, which brought in $6 millionlast February: Bio Holdings, Morgenthaler Ventures, VenrockAssociates, CW Group and Advent International, as well as J.H.Whitney (which led the current round), Oak Investments, GraceHorn Ventures, JAFCO, U.S. Biochemical Corp. and other privateinvestors.

"This financing provides us with the necessary resources tocontinue our accelerated development of ribozymes for a widerange of human therapeutic targets," said Ralph Christoffersen,RPI's president and chief executive officer. "This will take us along way" toward filing "our first investigational new drug(IND) application," he added.

RPI's technology centers on using ribozymes -- RNA moleculeswith enzymatic activity -- to modify gene expression by cuttingRNA at selected sites. RPI is using ribozyme technology todevelop ways to treat herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, HIV,cytomegalovirus and various forms of cancer.

RPI of Boulder, Colo., already holds five U.S. patents coveringribozymes, which the company calls the "Czech patents" afterthe inventor, University of Colorado researcher and Nobel Prizewinner Thomas Czech. The first patent of the group issued inFebruary 1991 and broadly claims "any RNA, whether madesynthetically or isolated from natural sources, with catalyticactivity," said Christoffersen.

Three of the other patents are CIPs (continuations-in-part) ofthe first, while the fifth is RPI's latest, which issued just lastweek and covers DNA cleavage by ribozymes. The other fourcover RNA cleavage by ribozymes, Christoffersen said.

The original licensee to the technology covered by the patentsis Cleveland-based U.S. Biochemical, which started RPI tocommercialize the technology last February.

RPI scientists have made some progress toward that goal. "Weare able to produce ribozymes in the quantities needed foranimal studies routinely," Christoffersen told BioWorld. "We aremaking good progress in learning how to stabilize ribozymesagainst nucleases ... and to show their efficacy in cell culture ...and we're exploring different delivery systems."

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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