Texas Biotechnology Corp., a Houston-based start-up focusingon cardiovascular disease, has netted $19 million in a firstround of financing from private investors.

The financing was put together by New York investors Davidand Isaac Blech, and was typical of their deals, which avoidventure capital and raise sums sufficient to enable companiesto operate for several years. The Blechs helped form Icos Corp.,which last year raised a record $33 million in start-upfinancing.

Texas Biotech is focusing on the endothelium, the layer of cellslining blood vessels and the cavities of the heart. The companyaims to develop proprietary small molecules to treat a varietyof cardiovascular diseases, David Ortlieb, president and chiefexecutive, told BioWorld.

Company scientists are evaluating several potential programs,not all of which will be pursued, said Richard Dixon, scientificdirector. Prior to joining Texas Biotech, Dixon was director ofmolecular biology at Merck Sharp & Dohme.

The company has started a project aimed at preventing theaccumulation of cholesterol deposits by inhibiting theattachment of macrophages to the endothelium. Macrophagestake up cholesterol, which then forms plaque in blood vessels.

A second possible focus is blood pressure regulators. Althoughthere are many products on the market, most have side effects.The company is targeting the endothelin peptide, the mostpotent vasoconstrictor yet identified. Endothelin is released byendothelial cells. Although its role in blood pressure regulationis still speculative, endothelin receptor antagonists that blockits function should act as vasodilators, Dixon said.

Another possible program would look at ways to preventcoronary reocclusion following angioplasty. The implanting ofendothelial cells engineered to produce thrombolytic agentsfollowing angioplasty could prevent reocclusion by deliveringthrombolytics directly to the injured site.

James Willerson, chairman of the department of internalmedicine at the University of Texas Medical School, is theintellectual founder of Texas Biotech. Willerson is chairman ofthe scientific advisory board and a director.

Ortlieb was president of the American Optical Corp. beforejoining Texas Biotech. Prior to that he was president ofErbamont and of Abbott International.

The company hasn't yet filed for any patents.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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