By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

ProdiGene Inc. said it completed a financing round of more than $9 million through the private placement of preferred stock.

StaufferSeeds Inc., of Omaha, Neb., a partner providing seed and grain production for ProdiGene's recombinant proteins, led the financing round.

Since the College Station, Texas-based company was founded in 1997, it has raised a total of $20 million, said Anthony Laos, ProdiGene's chairman and CEO. Although he didn't release the amount of cash the company currently has available, Laos said funding from the financing will be used to further develop and commercialize recombinant proteins produced from the company's technology, which involves transgenic plants.

Potential ProdiGene products include vaccines for humans and animals and therapeutic pharmaceuticals such as monoclonal antibodies.

"There is much concern today in the biopharmaceutical marketplace because of limited production capacity for the novel new drugs being developed," Laos said in a prepared statement. "Analysts project that in five years, demand will more than double today's total production capacity. ProdiGene's transgenic system is capable of meeting the projected shortfall with minimal capital investment. Additionally, recombinant plant proteins are inherently free of mammalian contaminants, such as prions associated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease."

ProdiGene has rights to more than 100 issued and pending patents.

The company also has a collaboration agreement with Genecor International Inc., of Rochester, N.Y., to develop enzyme products using transgenic plants.

In another collaboration signed earlier this year, ProdiGene and Large Scale Biology Corp., of Vacaville, Calif., are developing and manufacturing therapeutic antibodies. The alliance enhances the capabilities of the two companies to commercialize biopharmaceutical proteins produced in plants.

Last November, ProdiGene was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health for development of an edible AIDS vaccine produced from transgenic plants. Efforts will focus on a transgenic corn variety that expresses a glycoprotein used as a major component in most HIV and simian immunodeficiency virus vaccines. n