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Anticancer company Proacta raises a further US$35m and extends

08 / 02 / 2007

Proacta Inc, an oncology drug discovery and development company, announced today that it has raised a further US$35m in a Series B round of funding. This new funding will be used to take New Zealand-discovered anticancer compound PR-104 through the next phase of clinical development and support the discovery and development of new compounds.

Another New Zealand clinical testing site, The University of Auckland, will soon begin treating patients with PR-104. The first human clinical trial for PR-104 was started at Waikato Hospital in early 2006 and their clinicians, along with those in Australia and the US, have continued to play a significant role in the early clinical testing of the drug.

Direct interaction between scientists and clinicians, on the joint development of a drug candidate coming from the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC), is the overall aim of the ACSRC, and of its staff members and Proacta founding scientists Professors Bill Denny and Bill Wilson.

"Our motivation in founding Proacta was to provide a vehicle that would maximize ACSRC and more broadly New Zealand's participation in all aspects of the drug discovery and development process, and thus help build infrastructure locally. The new US funding is helping to make that a reality.

"While New Zealand investors maintain a sizeable holding in Proacta we couldn't do what we are doing without US venture capital, and that's maximising the local opportunities both scientifically and clinically. It means we can submit an IND (Investigational New Drug) application to the Food and Drug Administration for clinical development of a second compound," Dr Wilson said.

PR-104 was developed and progressed to clinical trial in New Zealand. It is a unique anticancer drug that is converted to a DNA damaging agent in the hypoxic (oxygen deficient) regions in tumours. The trials are an important step in seeking to exploit abnormality in the blood supply of tumours as a basis for treatment. Relapse of treated cancer is probably often due to the ability of cancer cells in hypoxic regions to survive existing treatments.

Research Clinicians at the University of Auckland have worked closely with the ACSRC and Proacta assisting with the strategic direction of the clinical development program for PR-104. Professor Michael Findlay notes that the hypoxia target is particularly exciting as emerging clinical evidence suggests that a large proportion of the 10 million people who are diagnosed with cancer each year have areas of significant hypoxia in their tumours. He and the new study's local lead investigator Associate Professor Mark McKeage, are delighted to open the new trial.

"Pending final steps in our internal approval process we anticipate sign-off for the third PR-104 study in the next month or so. This is a wonderful example of how donations from the New Zealand public, invested via the Cancer Society of New Zealand, can convert into new clinical trial options for New Zealanders with cancer.

Dr Michael Jameson, the medical oncology specialist at Waikato Hospital who began the trials in New Zealand, said he was pleased to offer quite a number of patients the opportunity to go through the first PR-104 trial in the last year.

"The drug appears to be better tolerated than many chemotherapy drugs. We opened a second trial here with PR-104 last month using a new schedule, and plan to open a third trial in March combining PR-104 with chemotherapy.

"We are finding out how much of the drug we can safely give, what side-effects there are, how the body handles the drug, and if there is any evidence of its activity against cancers. It is very much a work in progress and we have been encouraged to date but we have a long way to go", Dr Jameson said.

Proacta s Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice-President of Clinical Affairs, John Gutheil is based in San Diego and he's very impressed with the quality of clinical research in New Zealand.

"It would be fair to say that working in New Zealand is new for most US co