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A pharmacy connected to a deadly nationwide meningitis outbreak filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday and said it was seeking to set up a fund to pay victims.

Contaminated steroid injections from the New England Compounding Center have been blamed for 39 deaths and 620 illnesses since the outbreak began over the summer. The Chapter 11 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court shields the company from the threat of creditor lawsuits while it establishes the fund.

The company said in its filing that 130 lawsuits have been filed against it and 270 other people have claimed injury from the tainted drugs.

"The number or lawsuits and demands is rising on a daily basis," the filing read. "The sheer volume and wide geographic distribution of cases -- bringing the prospect of chaotic, conflicting and value-destroying pretrial orders and remedies -- has necessitated commencing this case at this time."

NECC, based in Framingham, just west of Boston, said it has hired accountant Keith D. Lowey to lead the effort to set up the compensation fund.

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