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Venture capital targets Swiss biotech

SpinX specialises in lab-on-a-chip technology (SpinX Technologies)

With the help of local venture firms, two fledgling Swiss biotechnology life science sector companies have attracted venture capital investment.

The move will help SpinX and Xigen, both spin-offs of research institutes in Switzerland, to finance their R&D, bringing them close to the commercialisation of their first products.

SpinX Technologies, a developer of lab-on-a-chip systems for biological experiments, has raised a €10 million (SFr15.4 million) Series B, or second round funding, co-led by Finland's Bio Fund Management Oy of Helsinki and Index Ventures of Geneva.

They were joined by Paris-based Auriga Partners and DFJ ePlanet Ventures of Redwood City, California.

Index Ventures has been a SpinX primary investor since 2003, helping the firm to find key members of the management, staff and advisors, as well as investors.

Geneva-based SpinX was founded by two former researchers of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern).

Cern's pension fund is also taking a small stake in the company. "We rarely invest directly in privately held companies, but we are pleased to invest in SpinX alongside a committed group of top tier venture capital funds," said Christian Cuenoud, an administrator of the Cern Pension Fund, in a statement.

He added that the founders' background at Cern: "where they performed fundamental research for many years - obviously played a role as well."

Leap forward

SpinX claims its system is a leap forward in so-called lab-on-a chip technology. One key breakthrough has been finding a way to shrink the size of such a system without dramatically increasing the cost of components. For example, its fluid handling process uses the same components that control a laser in a CD player.

This is very different, says SpinX, to the way traditional microfluidic systems are controlled, namely an engineered mechanism small enough to drop fluids into a micronmeter-sized channel.

"Two years ago, the partnership took a bet on the founding team because of their vision for microfluidics and the unique angle they were coming at biology," said Richard Rimer, partner at Index Ventures, in a statement.

SpinX now has in place suppliers and outsourcing partners for the manufacturing of its first product, a bench-top system that performs experiments that were once done in test tubes and more recently in trays of micro-pipettes.

Results of a trial of a prototype of the system will be presented in the coming week. First products are expected to ship in mid-2006.

Xigen finds funding

The other company to announce fundraising this week is Xigen, which is based in Lausanne. The young biotechnology firm raised a SFr26 million ($21 million) Series A round to fund clinical trials of its lead compound targeting strokes.

Its investors now include Tilocor Life Sciences of Luxembourg, Initiative Capital, a venture fund owned by Banque Cantonale Vaudoise, which now join Zug-based Venture Incubator, its seed round investor.

Xigen, founded as a spinoff of the University of Lausanne in 2002, raised SFr3 million in a seed round in 2004.

Venture Incubator took an active role in Xigen's early phase of development, bringing in an experienced CEO and other key managers to professionalise the operational side of the business.

It was the professional management, in addition to the science, that attracted Tilocor to make this long-term bet on Xigen, Stefan Catsicas, an advisor to the investment firm, told swissinfo.

The biotechnology start-up has several compounds targeting the treatment of cancer in the pre-clinical pipeline.

The new capital is sufficient to enable the company to fund itself until results from human trials emerge, sometime in 2007.

by Valerie Thompson


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