National Editor

Almost a year to the day after it disclosed a partnership focused on developing a second-generation gluconeogenesis inhibitor for Type II diabetes, Metabasis Therapeutics Inc. said it has raised $24.9 million through a private placement to advance that product, as well as a drug for primary liver cancer.

The company will use the funds mainly to push MB7133, its liver cancer candidate, which is in a Phase I/II trial. Paul Laikind, chairman, president and CEO of San Diego-based Metabasis, declined to say when the trial is expected to complete.

"I'm confined to what's in the press release, unfortunately," he told BioWorld Today.

Metabasis' first-generation gluconeogenesis inhibitor, CS-917, is in Phase II trial. It is being developed in a deal with Tokyo-based Sankyo Co. Ltd. that was expanded a year ago to add an option to include Sankyo in the second-generation effort - and could mean another $25 million to $50 million for Metabasis. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 30, 2002.)

"They've exercised an option to take a backup compound," Laikind said, but declined to say whether the company has gained cash beyond the nonrefundable $8 million paid by Sankyo at the time.

CS-917 was developed with the company's NuMimetic technology, which discovers nucleotide-binding sites on enzymes that control the output of metabolic pathways. In a multiday Phase IIa study, the drug was shown to significantly lower blood glucose. Metabasis keeps co-promotion rights for the compound in North America.

MB7133 deploys the company's HepDirect approach, which targets drugs to the liver - in this case cytosine arabinoside, also known as araC, a marketed cancer drug. Metabasis retains all worldwide commercialization rights to MB7133. HepDirect also has yielded a drug for hepatitis B called Hepavir B, developed in collaboration with Ribapharm Inc., of Costa Mesa, Calif., which started a Phase I study in May.

The stock placement involved existing investors MPM Capital, of Boston; InterWest Partners of Menlo Park, Calif.; and The Sprout Group, also of Menlo Park. New investors included Maverick Capital, of Dallas; Wellcome Trust, of London; Itochu Corp., of Tokyo; and Pan-Pacific Venture Capital, of Taiwan.