Charles Craig

Khepri Pharmaceuticals Inc., a privately held company focusing ondevelopment of proteases and their inhibitors to treat cancer andinflammatory diseases, has raised $11 million in a third round offinancing.

Ronald Henriksen, president and CEO of the South San Francisco-based company, said the funding will enable Khepri to continuepreclinical and clinical development while searching for corporatepartnerships.

"We're in negotiations with corporate partners on several projects,"Henriksen said. "We hope to have a corporate partner on board in thefirst half of 1995."

The lead investor for the financing was London-based SchroderVentures. Nine other institutional and venture capital firms alsoinvested funds.

Henriksen said Khepri has raised a total of $22.8 million since 1992when it was founded, in part, with funding from Genentech Inc., ofSouth San Francisco. Genentech owns a 3 percent interest in Khepri.

Khepri's most advanced product, Henriksen said, is neutralendopeptidase (NEP), which is being targeted initially for treatmentof small cell lung cancer. NEP is a zinc metalloprotease that cleavespeptide mediators involved in inflammatory processes and tumorgrowth. The company expects to begin clinical trials in about a year.

NEP also is being evaluated in preclinical research for asthma.Henriksen said Khepri intends to develop a corporate partnership forthe asthma treatment, but may decide to continue development on itsown of NEP for lung cancer.

In the area of protease inhibitors, Henriksen said, the first targets arecysteine proteases associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Cysteineproteases have been linked to tissue destruction, and using rationaldrug design, Khepri developed small molecule inhibitors to blockcysteine proteases that damage cartilage and bone in joints. Thecompany expects to file an investigational new drug application in1996 to begin clinical trials.

Henriksen said a number of biotechnology and big drug companiesare involved either in developing proteases or protease inhibitors, butonly a few firms focus exclusively on both.n

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.