Life sciences briefing: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

Drug-screening tool maker IonGate Bio raises €4.6M — IonGate Biosciences, a Frankfurt, Germany, developer of tools for drug screening, raised €4.6 million ($6.7 million) in a third funding round. Investors included Heidelberg Innovation and KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau).

IonGate, whose slogan appears to be “Measure More Membrane,” focuses on the study of proteins embedded in cell membranes, particularly “transport” proteins that move molecules of various sorts in and out of cells. The company’s tools allow drug companies to observe the activity of these proteins, apparently in order to determine whether particular drug candidates activate them in order to make their way into the cell interior.

The company plans to use the funding to expand its international operations, especially in the U.S. The company formed a U.S. subsidiary in December, and plans to build out distribution channels here in order to market its surface-protein analysis technology.

molecular-partners-logo-150px.gifProtein-drug maker Molecular Partners gets $5M up front in Centocor deal — Zurich’s Molecular Partners, a biotech developing drugs based on a new class of binding proteins, struck a partnership with J&J’s Centocor unit (PDF link) that yielded the startup a $5 million upfront payment. The collaboration will focus on Molecular’s work with DARPins — the acronym stands for designed ankyrin repeat proteins, in case you were curious — that the company is currently developing as potential anti-inflammatory drugs.

Molecular will receive additional undisclosed cash for research and licensing fees, as well as royalty payments for any drugs that result from the collaboration. We covered their technology — which is interesting, but may also have serious drawbacks relative to monoclonal antibodies, which is Centocor’s specialty — in more detail here (fifth item).

protagen-logo-150px.jpgProtaGen takes in €1M for protein biochips — ProtaGen, a Dortmund, Germany, provider of protein-analysis tools, raised €1 million ($1.5 million — PDF link) in an interim financing. Investors included MIG, Co KG Beteiligungsfonds 3, S-Venture
Capital Dortmund and Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW).

The funding will allow the company to expand its development and sales of protein biochips, which enable relatively quick identification and analysis of proteins from biological samples. Such chips might one day be useful as diagnostic tools, although for now they are mostly used to find and “validate” proteins that might serve as “biomarkers” for the presence or progress of disease. ProtaGen is also working on its own diagnostics for Alzheimer’s disease and various inflammatory conditions.

sundia-meditech-logo-150px.jpgChina’s Sundia MediTech, a contract research organization raises second round — Sundia MediTech, a Shanghai contract-research startup founded by U.S. biopharmaceutical veterans, raised an undisclosed second funding round. Sundia didn’t disclose the identities of its investors beyond noting that first-round participant IDG Ventures was also involved in this funding.

Sundia’s press release makes for some amusing reading, and not just because it seems to have been written by someone with a relatively poor grasp of English. The statement is mostly devoted to extolling Sundia’s “excellent reputation” and “phenomenal growth,” not to mention the difficulty it has had beating investors off with a stick. For instance, there’s this:

One month later, Wuxi Pharmatech from the same city had a very successful IPO at New York Stock Exchange as the first Chinese CRO company to go public. Suddenly, CRO became a hot area for all investors to look for opportunities. ”Wuxi’s IPO definitely brought more investors to us”, the company’s CFO Dr. Beijia Yu recalled, ”We did have a difficult time to handle all requests from VCs, PEs and investment bankers for meetings to discuss investment possibility. The response to our fund raise from the investors was overwhelming.”

Maybe they deserve it — it’s difficult to say from here, and of course, it’s not as if U.S. startups don’t sometimes toot their own horn a bit loudly. Still, it’s an interesting example of the different cultural norms at play in a Chinese company.

Transoma logoVital-signs implant maker Transoma Medical sets IPO terms, aims for $78M — Transoma Medical, a St. Paul, Minn., medical-device maker, set its IPO terms and now hopes to raise as much as $77.6 million. The company intends to price its shares between $14 and $16.

Transoma makes implantable devices that monitor patient vital signs. We previously covered them here.