By Matthew Willett

MetaPhore Pharmaceuticals Inc. watered the grass with a $13 million private placement, its second.

The St. Louis company develops metal compounds that mimic the body's primary antioxidants, a family of enzymes called superoxide dismutase (SOD).

SOD enzymes remove superoxide free radicals by converting them into hydrogen peroxide and oxygen, preventing the "cell rusting."

MetaPhore Executive Vice President Denis Forster said the financing will fund clinical advancement for about the next year and a half, allowing the company to move two candidates through Phase I testing and, he said, into Phase II.

"We'll be entering the clinic, and hopefully we'll start by taking the first and second drug candidates into clinical trials in 2001," he told BioWorld Today. "There's a whole different level of expenses there than preclinical work."

He said the second round of financing proves the company is making a name for itself nationally.

"The first round went through predominantly as a St. Louis-based round," he said. "The second round, while a good fraction of it is in St. Louis, shows a more national investor representation. We're becoming a little more visible on the national level."

MetaPhore's lead candidate, an anticancer therapeutic, is to be the subject soon of an investigational new drug application, the company said.

Other indications being pursued by MetaPhore include Parkinson's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cancers, pain and inflammatory diseases.

MetaPhore's first round of financing, a $7 million private placement, came in 1999 and was earmarked to fund Phase I trials of its metal-based therapeutics.

The second round of financing included Clayton Capital, Gryphon Holdings and Belleau Development, and was led by the Stifel Nicolaus CAPCO Fund.

Other funding for the company came from a number of Small Business Innovation Research grants.

In November the company received a $100,000 SBIR grant from the FDA to study blood pressure drops during septic shock .

In September, the company received a similar grant, this one for $290,000 from the National Institutes of Health, to study potential new treatments for managing both acute and chronic pain.

MetaPhore's collaborations include a co-exclusive agreement with the former Monsanto Co., since bought by Pharmacia Corp., of Peapack, N.J. The pharma company gets rights of first offer for anything MetaPhore develops in exchange for an equity investment totaling about $1 million. MetaPhore also received rights to Monsanto's SOD technology.