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With Seed Financing in Hand, Lentigen Works to Build Up Operations, Eyes RNAi Collaborations


Founded about one year ago, lentiviral vector maker Lentigen has begun efforts to quickly ramp up its operations and establish itself as a key provider of RNAi and gene-delivery vehicles. In less than a week, the company announced that it has secured its seed and Series A financing, appointed a management team, and inked an alliance with a contract manufacturer.

According to Lentigen, it received its funding from Greenwich Biotech Ventures, a private equity venture capital firm. While the exact size of the financing was not disclosed, Lentigen founder and CEO Boro Dropulic told RNAi News this week that it was in the single-digit millions, and is expected to help the company remain solvent "well into 2006."

This timeline, however, is exclusive of revenues the company currently generates through manufacturing deals with undisclosed commercial and academic partners, as well as revenues from deals it may sign in the upcoming year, he noted.

The company is exploring a number of different technologies, including RNAi, that could be combined with its vectors for in-house therapeutic programs. Hepatitis C was one disease area the company was evaluating.

Even with the financing from Greenwich Biotech, Dropulic said that the company may pursue additional funding next year "in order to start building up our proprietary business."

That proprietary business includes collaborating with academic and industry partners to advance therapeutic products into the clinic using the company's lentiviral vectors, as well as in-house drug-development programs.

Last month, Dropulic spoke with RNAi News about Lentigen and noted that the company is exploring a number of different technologies, including RNAi, that could be combined with its vectors for in-house therapeutic programs (see RNAi News, 11/11/2005). He noted at that time that hepatitis C was one disease area the company was evaluating.

At present, however, Lentigen has no RNAi-specific programs underway, Dropulic said, adding that this is expected to change "very soon" with a potential collaboration for its vector technology.

The People

With the venture capital in its pocket, Lentigen has also named new members of its executive management team, appointing Yung Nien Chang, formerly vice president of research and development at VirxSys -- a company Dropulic also co-founded -- as Lentigen's vice president of vector development.

Before working at VirxSys, Chang was a senior scientist and group leader at Genetic Therapy, which later merged with Novartis. He holds a PhD in biology from the University of North Texas, an MS from the National Defense Medial Center in Taiwan, and a BS from Tunghai University.

Lentigen tapped Gregory Feulner as vice president of business development. Feulner came to Lenitegen from Galileo Genomics and Gene Logic, where he held similar positions. He holds a BS in biology and chemistry from the University of Delaware, a PhD in biochemistry from Pennsylvania State University, and a JD from Syracuse College of Law.

Finally, Lentigen named John Woolford as director of business planning. Most recently, he was a vice president and equity analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker, where he followed the biotechnology and life science sectors. He has also held positions in the contract manufacturing division of MedImmune. He holds an MBA and a BS in microbiology from the University of Maryland.

With the additions, Lentigen currently has 10 employees, of which about half are management and half on the science side of things, Dropulic said. He said that the company doesn't expect to grow in any significant way over the next few months, although "we do need to maybe fill in a few slots here and there."

The Partnership

Lentigen also said this week that it has signed a deal with contract manufacturer Omnia Biologics under which the companies will refer customers to each other for their respective services. Expanding upon an existing relationship between the companies, the arrangement also allows Lentigen to use Omnia's manufacturing facilities for its own products.

"Previously, we had a services agreement [with Omnia] -- it really was a contract agreement where we could use Omnia's space," Dropulic said. "This new agreement allows us to have more of a strategic relationship with Omnia whereby both Lentigen and Omnia will bring in clients that are interested in cGMP lentiviral vector manufacturing, and work together to produce cGMP lentiviral vector material."

According to Dropulic, Lentigen will continue to use Omnia's facility, and will also use the company for assurance support. Omnia is providing "space, equipment, and cGMP expertise," he noted. "We bring in our manufacturing expertise, our LentiMax vector, and our manufacturing methodologies."

Financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed, but Dropulic noted that Omnia is remunerated for access to its services, equipment, and facility on a case-by-case basis. It "depends on the client," he said.

While Lentigen may build up its own manufacturing operations in the future, "for now we're very happy to collaborate with Omnia, [which can make] any vector at its facility," Dropulic said. "That's not to say that, as we grow, we may not need other space."

The deal with Omnia enables Lentigen to make its vectors in supplies sufficient for "anything from phase I to phase III" clinical trials, he noted. "It doesn't really allow for commercial scale, but allows for anything within the clinical trial phases." He added that he expects Lentigen to have its clinical study-scale manufacturing operations in place by mid-2006.

-- Doug Macron ([email protected])

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