Athena Neurosciences Inc. of South San Francisco, Calif.,announced Tuesday that it completed a $13.3 million thirdround of private financing, bringing the total amount raised bythe company since 1986 to $29.2 million.

New investors, organized by PaineWebber Inc., put upapproximately two-thirds of the amount.

Athena also said that Robert W Pangia, PaineWebber's co-director of investment banking, was elected a director. Athenadiscovers and develops products to diagnose and treat centralnervous system disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Thecompany employs 70 workers.

A founding group of 13 venture capitalists, Athena ResearchDirector Lawrence Fritz and a Boston academic own about halfof the company's stock. The rest is held by the new investors,employees and Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis, which in 1988bought a 4 percent stake in Athena.

An initial public stock offering (IPO) is planned within the nexttwo years, said Eric Nelson, Athena's manager of businessdevelopment.

A portion of the funds from the new financing will be used tofinance the in-licensing of a range of drugs for neurologicaldiseases. Proceeds will also be used to set up a "specialitymarketing force," Nelson said. "We have several attractive(licensing) candidates that we are working on acquiring, andwe hope to begin marketing them by 1992," he said.

Some proceeds will be used to finance Athena's researchinitiatives, which are primarily focused on developing productsto diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's affects an estimated 2 million to 4 millionAmericans, a number that is rising. No drug has been approvedto stop or reverse the progression of the disease.

Because the severity of the disease correlates to the buildup ofprotein structures, called amyloid plaques, surrounding the tipsof patients' nerve cells, researchers are attempting to developan amyloid inhibitor that would slow down or halt progressionof the disease. A product is still several years from themarketplace, Nelson said.

Athena scientists are also in the early stages of a search for adisease-specific antigen that would enable them to develop abiochemical test for Alzheimer's. The disease is now diagnosedon the basis of neurological and psychiatric examination,usually long after it has taken hold. Scientists hope that abiochemical test would allow detection of the disease evenbefore the first symptoms appear.

Another research interest at Athena is the development ofdrugs to control the permeability of the blood-brain barrier,the protective layer of cells surrounding the brain. Increasingthe barrier's permeability would allow therapeutic drugs topenetrate; decreasing it might reverse the detrimental effect ofstroke and multiple sclerosis.

-- Rachel Nowak BioWorld Staff

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