Woodford backs ReNeuron's $106M fundraise for cell therapy R&D

Neil Woodford

ReNeuron, a U.K. drug developer developing cell therapies, hauled in £68.4 million ($106.2 million) to advance its pipeline, winning over European biotech evangelist Neil Woodford as it develops treatments for stroke and blindness.

The fundraise is the largest for any cell therapy company this year, according to ReNeuron, and will pay the biotech's way through 2019.

ReNeuron's most advanced asset is a stem cell-derived treatment for stroke that is now in Phase II with top-line data expected in the first half of next year and a pivotal trial to follow. Behind that is a therapy for limb ischemia expected to enter Phase II in 2016 and a preclinical retinitis pigmentosa treatment slated to begin human trials before the end of this year, ReNeuron said.

Investor interest in ReNeuron is in part a reflection of the maturity of the cell therapy field, according to CEO Olav Hellebø. ReNeuron is at work on so-called off-the-shelf cell therapies that it believes can be dosed without the need for immunosuppressive drugs, and its clinical development programs, if successful, could spell a major advance for an area of biotech long bedeviled by setbacks.

"What has really been lacking in the cell therapy field is controlled clinical data, and that's really what we are doing now," Hellebø told Reuters. "It's not done yet but it definitely has the potential to offer new therapies."

Woodford's participation takes his fund's stake in ReNeuron up to 35.5% from 26.2%, the company said.

Meanwhile, life sciences funding in the U.K. has swelled to its highest mark in more than a decade, according to the local Bioindustry Association and Evaluate, driven by a surge of IPOs and venture capital financings.

- read the statement (PDF)
- here's the Reuters story