Little Gemin X raises big money to fund clinical trial

Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, occurs all the time in a healthy human body. It’s cancer that disrupts the program.

A local biopharmaceutical company that’s been testing a treatment that aims to reinitiate apoptosis in certain cancer cells just raised $16 million in its latest round of financing.

Malvern-based Gemin X Pharmaceuticals Inc. has raised more than $100 million in outside capital since it was founded in Montreal in 1998.

The last two years have been difficult for small biotech firms to raise money. Gemin X will use the proceeds to support its ongoing Phase 2b clinical trial of obatoclax as a treatment for patients with “extensive-stage” small-cell lung cancer.

Art Fratamico, Gemin X’s chief business officer, described the disease as a “very aggressive cancer,” one that kills 90 percent of patients two years after diagnosis.

Small-cell lung cancer accounted for only 10 percent to 15 percent of the 215,000 lung cancer cases diagnosed in the United States in 2008, according to the American Cancer Society.

The National Cancer Institute says chemotherapy and radiation therapy for patients with limited-stage small-cell lung cancer can produce median survival rates of 16 to 24 months.

Gemin X’s investors include Caxton Advantage Life Sciences Fund L.P. and Sanderling Venture Partners, both of which led the current equity financing.

Started by researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Gemin X maintains its research and development operations in Canada. It opened an office in Malvern in 2002 that is now its headquarters.

“We needed to attract the talent to do the clinical development aspects, and the Philadelphia area is rich with that talent,” said Michael Dixon, Gemin X’s chief financial officer.

The company employs 25 people, including 15 in Malvern. One of them is chairman and CEO Peter R. Dolan, the former head of Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The Phase 2b trial involves 165 patients at more than 60 cancer centers in the U.S. and Europe. Gemin X’s obatoclax is administered with two chemotherapies - carboplatin and etoposide.

The company expects to announce results from the clinical trial this quarter.