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New Investment, Gov’t Funding to Help OGS Develop Colorectal Cancer Tests

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Oxford Genome Sciences said this week it has received new funding to further develop its colorectal cancer diagnostic and therapeutic programs and grow the company.
 
The funding is two-pronged: One is an infusion of investments from three venture capital funds, while the other is from the British government.
 
The equity investment comes from a syndicate of venture funds led by the newly formed Catapult Growth Fund, which has raised £30 million ($59 million) in capital, as well as the South East Growth Fund and Oxford Capital Partners, both of which provided initial seed funds to the company.
 
Oxford Genome CEO Christian Rohlff declined to say how much the latest investments total, but said they are in the millions of dollars. The cash infusion comes as Oxford Genome marches along in its quest to develop diagnostics and therapies for colorectal cancer.
 
Separately, Oxford Genome received a $2 million grant from the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry to help build a database of hepatoxicity biomarkers. The company said the project will cost $4 million and said the balance will come from revenue generated by service contracts with other companies.
 
Oxford Genome will make a formal announcement about the project next month, Rohlff said.  
 
Partnering on Cancer
 
Last spring, Oxford Genome forged separate collaborations with Biosite, Medarex, and Oxford University to develop colorectal cancer diagnostics and treatments.
 
In April, Oxford announced its co-development deal with Biosite for a protein array, blood-based assay for colorectal cancer. The companies’ initial focus is on developing a test to help predict relapse of the disease, though they also plan to develop a test that diagnoses the disease [See PM 04/06/06].
 
“The initial indication really is to say, ‘Can we differentiate and preferably select those patients who are likely to relapse?’” Rohlff told ProteoMonitorthis week. In about half of the cases in which patients have their primary tumors surgically removed, he said, the disease will relapse within two years.
 
“For many, it will be fatal, and we want to use the diagnostic to identify that population at risk of relapsing because they should be put on a more stringent treatment than those people who have a low risk of developing further disease,” Rohlff said.
 
In addition to Oxford Genome and Biosite, others that are working on a protein-based colorectal cancer test include Miraculins and Matritech though it is unclear whether they, or anyone else, are working on a test for colorectal cancer relapse.
 
Rohlff said his company and San Diego-based Biosite expect to validate the biomarkers on which their test will be based during the summer, but declined to provide other details.
 

“What’s interesting there is that you have a lot of different aspects of biomarkers coming together. We want to look there at protein biomarkers in conjunction with imaging and RNA profiling to really see what the benefits are to [having] interactions between these different biomarker technologies.”

Oxford Genome’s deal with the Department of Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Oxford, also announced last April, is for the discovery of protein clinical biomarkers for colorectal cancer. Unlike the test being developed with Biosite, which is predictive, this one is to help clinicians choose the best treatment for those patients who have already been diagnosed with early- and late-stage colorectal cancer, and those who have already relapsed.
 
“Clinicians really don’t have any tools that allow them to say, ‘This person should be treated with this and this one will respond better with that,’” Rohlff said.
 
“What’s interesting there is that you have a lot of different aspects of biomarkers coming together. We want to look there at protein biomarkers in conjunction with imaging and RNA profiling to really see what the benefits are to [having] interactions between these different biomarker technologies,” Rohlff said.
 
Finally in May, Oxford Genome and Medarex, based in Princeton, NJ, said they would develop and commercialize human antibody therapeutics for colorectal cancer. Under the agreement, Oxford Genome would provide targets to Medarex, which would use its UltiMAb human antibody-development system to generate fully human monoclonal antibodies.
 
Other Indications
 
In 2006, an estimated 148,000 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in the US, making it the fourth-most newly diagnosed cancer in the country, according to the National Cancer Institute.
 
While Oxford Genome’s attention is squarely aimed at the disease, Rohlff said the company is conducting research in other disease areas.
 
“We’re looking also to other cancer indications. I’m hoping that we will be making some announcements in the first half of this year,” he said, declining to identify the cancers.
 
Formed in 2004 from the remnants of Oxford GlycoSciences Proteomics when that company closed in 2003, Oxford Genome currently employs about 25 people, mostly researchers, Rohlff said.
 
In addition to venture capital funding, the company generates revenue through biomarker discovery it does on a fee-for-service basis for large pharmaceutical companies. Rohlff declined to identify them.

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