MacroNex Inc., a start-up begun last fall to developmacrophage-related drugs, has raised $1 million in its firstround of venture funding.

The Durham, N.C., company has received $500,000 frominvestors Intersouth Partners and S.R. One Ltd., plus a pledgefor an additional $500,000 in a second closing in the fall.MacroNex hopes to add one or two more investors at that time,which could bring the total raised to $2 million, said PaulJones, MacroNex's president.

The company was founded by doctors Dolph Adams andSalvatore Pizzo, professors at the Duke University MedicalCenter. The company has a technology transfer agreement withDuke for technology developed in their labs.

MacroNex hopes to develop therapeutics using the naturalregulators of macrophages, white blood cells that ingestforeign organisms and present antigens to T and Blymphocytes.

"Our basic premise is to understand how the macrophageregulates itself and to develop agonists to those naturallyoccurring ligands," said George Cianciolo, vice president ofresearch and development. Ligands are molecules that bind toreceptors and induce physiological responses.

"In many cases, the disease process is a case of a gene beingturned on and overproduced," Cianciolo said. "By understandingthe process, we can make an agonist to turn the gene off.

"For example, interleukin-1 has a role in rheumatoid arthritis,"Cianciolo said. "Many companies are developing receptorantagonists to block the binding sites. In our case, we'd shutoff the gene for IL-1 in the macrophage by identifying how themacrophage naturally shuts off IL-1. This would modify thedisease rather than treat its symptoms."

The company is researching two lead molecules. The first is amodified peptide that lowers the level of gene expression, ordownregulates, macrophage HLA class II antigens, one of themajor histocompatibility antigens that can cause graftrejection.

The second, a protein fragment of alpha 2 macroglobulin, alsodownregulates class II antigens and suppresses the productionof reactive oxygen intermediates by macrophages. These arethought to be a key element in diseases such as rheumatoidarthritis.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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