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18 January, 2007 - 13:47 By Staff Reporter

Phico to begin trials as funding is raised

Phico Therapeutics is planning to start Phase I clinical trials of its novel 'guided' anti-bacterial technology in September after having closed a £1.5 million financing round.The Cambridge-based company's SASPject antibiotic product,which has been in development for the last five years, will initially be aimed at fighting the hospital superbugs MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

A further funding round of up to £5 million will then be sourced to progress the development of the technology beyond Phase I.

This will be Phico's seventh cash injection in the last seven years, bringing the total to £4.3m, "really a short process" for a company that was started from scratch with a staff count of one according to company founder and chief executive, Dr Heather Fairhead, who launched the firm alone in 2000.

"The funding will take us through to 2008," said Dr Fairhead. "It is largely for work leading up to and including the Phase I trials which start in September."

Phico Therapeutics' claims its approach to antibiotics is entirely new. The technology is based on a special SASP protein and a delivery vector that targets and inactivates bacterial DNA in such a way that it is very difficult for the bacteria to become resistant.

The vectors, modified bacterial viruses called bacteriophages, are used to deliver the gene encoding this protein to specific harmful bacteria.

Bacteriophages can only target bacteria and act like a hypodermic syringe to inject the gene into target bacteria where the lethal protein is produced.

"The active ingredient is completely unique," said Dr Fairhead. "If the bacterial DNA mutates, the treatment will still work. Most existing antibiotics are chemicals that target the bacteria cell surface or internal mechanism, but are not specific."

Phico believes the technology can be used against almost any individual bacterial species, though its first product will be used specifically to eliminate methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, which often live in the nose of healthy humans, thereby reducing the number of MRSA infections in hospitals.

As well as MRSA, work is progressing on C.difficile, the major cause of infectious diarrhoea in hospitalised patients with serious cases often requiring removal of the colon or even resulting in death.

C.difficile-associated diarrhoea can be very difficult to treat and some conventional antibiotics can even aggravate the infection since they are indiscriminate and target the natural gut flora leaving a niche for C. difficile to grow.

A very important aspect of Phico's approach is that it targets only the harmful C. difficile bacteria in the gut, leaving the normal flora unharmed.

Early development of Phico's oral treatment for this bug is progressing well along with an intravenous anti-MRSA treatment.

While the company is concentrating on progressing its products, Dr Fairhead is keeping her options open on what route to take with regards to further funding.

"We will be looking at a variety of sources, possibly venture capital or from pharmaceuticals.I would consider the option of listing on an exchange, though really this may be too early, or maybe licensing the technology."

Phico now has 12 full time staff and two temporary employees at its Babraham Research Park facility.

The latest funding round was underpinned by Cambridge Capital Group, Oxford Investment Opportunity Network, London Business Angels and Providence.

Dr Fairhead said: "I am delighted to welcome Phico's new investors and to thank existing investors for their continued support. "2007 will be an important year for Phico with the start of our clinical trial programme and we expect to make significant progress in developing our pipeline of products with the help of this funding."

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