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Biotech—Syrrx raises $79 million for protein research, drug discovery

FDA Offers Priority Review of Idec’s

Cancer Drug, Zevalin

Syrrx Inc., a proteomics firm in La Jolla, said it raised $54 million in a third round of private financing, bringing the total amount of money raised to $79 million.

The announcement was made Jan. 8 at the JP Morgan H & Q; conference in San Francisco.

The financing round was led by the Switzerland-based investment bank Lombard Odier & Cie and included Bay City Capital in San Francisco, Cooper Hill, and Invesco Global Health Science Fund.

The proteomics firm has enough money to go public at this time, said Syrrx’s CEO Dr. Wendell Wierenga.

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But Wierenga said he wants to hold off on IPO plans for one or two more years. Instead, he wants to use the funds to further develop the firm’s protein research.

Syrrx’s research focus is to “determine three-dimensional structures of proteins encoded by genes using a very high-throughput factory-like technology,” he said.

The money will also allow Syrrx to make the move from gene research firm to drug discovery company.

Syrrx’s aim is to identify drugs with fewer side-effects, a project that will take many years to realize.

Syrrx has enough funds to last well into 2002, according to Wierenga.

The company was spun off from the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) in La Jolla in February 2000.

Syrrx extended its alliance with the Institute to continue signed with an agreement late last year for five more years, Wierenga said.

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Idec Jumps FDA Hurdle: The Food and Drug Administration recently informed San Diego-based Idec Pharmaceuticals Corp. it accepted its filed application for a second cancer drug, Zevalin.

The FDA also approved Idec’s request for priority review of Zevalin, a unique treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“(That’s) a nice hurdle to get passed,” said Tom Dietz, analyst with Pacific Growth Equities in San Francisco.

However, one major issue still lingers.

Dietz said patents owned by another biotechnology firm, Corixa Corp. in Seattle, could raise serious ownership issues.

Corixa and its British partner SmithKline Beecham PLC developed a similar drug, Bexxar, which is also up for FDA review.

Dietz said it’s likely the FDA’s oncology advisory committee will review Zevalin and Bexxar concurrently.

Dietz speculated that if Corixa and SmithKline Beecham make patent ownership claims, it could have serious consequences for Idec, such as keeping Zevalin out of the marketplace.

Idec officials declined to comment on the patent issue.

Cancer-Causing Gene: Immusol, Inc., a small start-up biotechnology firm in San Diego, believes it has found an ideal therapeutic target to fight breast and ovarian cancers.

On Jan. 3, Immusol reported it found a gene that regulates the anti-cancer protein, BRCA1.

The gene, called ID4, appears to prevent the normal production of BRCA1, which in normal cells can help prevent breast and ovarian tumors.

The firm believes that by blocking the defective ID4 gene it forces the cancer cells to make more BRCA1, which in turn reverses the spread of cancer cells.

While these findings are promising, much research continues to be done. It may take years before these findings would translate into a drug, if at all.

Send biotech news to Webb at mwebb @sdbj.com.


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