Leverkusen / Halle ”Medicinal products from plants or even tobacco for health” a vision that could soon become reality. Bayer and its subsidiary Icon Genetics have together developed a new production process that can be used to produce biotech drugs in tobacco plants. A new production facility for therapeutic proteins was inaugurated on June 16 in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, with a ceremony attended by guests from the scientific community, politics and business. In the future, the active substances produced in the tobacco plants could be used to develop new approaches to the therapy and prevention of diseases for which the current medical options are not satisfactory.
”This project is intended to improve our chances of finding new therapies for life-threatening diseases by using drugs obtained with biotechnological methods,” explained Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, a member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG whose responsibilities include innovation. ”Not all cancers are the same. There are many types of tumor disease which have to be treated individually with specific active substances. The objective is to use this process to produce an individual drug for each patient.” This future-oriented technology is a perfect example of the innovative way in which Bayer is combining its extensive expertise in pharmaceutical research with its knowledge of plant genetics and biotechnology.
At Icon Genetics in the Halle Biocenter, 26 people are currently employed in research into and the development of biotech active substances produced in plants. These substances could be used, for example, to treat cancer or as a vaccine against influenza. The scientists work in approximately 1,000 square meters of laboratories and greenhouses. The new pilot plant has created 11 new jobs in Halle for highly qualified experts, most of whom come from the region. Bayer acquired Icon Genetics in 2006, and since then has invested over EUR 10 million in Halle in the study of plant-made pharmaceuticals.
”Icon Genetics embodies the high innovative potential of biotechnology. We are tremendously proud that a company like this has come to Halle,” Minister-President Boehmer commented. ”It shows that Saxony-Anhalt is a good location for research and that the success in biotechnology that is being achieved here is meeting with respect throughout the world.”
Biopharmaceuticals offer perspectives for beating disease
Today 15 percent of all medicines are produced using biotechnology, and as many as one in four new drug products is a biopharmaceutical whose active ingredient is produced in bioreactors using bacteria, brewer‘s yeast and insect or hamster cells, for example. These products, and cancer treatments in particular, are expected to account for a growing share of the market.
The production of ”personalized medicines” using biotechnology processes is an especially important area. Proteins produced in tobacco plants can be obtained rapidly and in high yields, and this offers prospects for therapies which have previously been impracticable because of the length of time taken to produce them or their economic viability.
Before the tobacco plant can start producing a pharmaceutical active ingredient, the blueprint for the relevant drug product first has to be transported into the plant with the aid of agrobacteria. The plant is placed head-first in a bath containing a bacterial solution specific to the plant. A vacuum process enables the plant to take up the bacterial solution through its pores. The solution is distributed throughout the tobacco plant and its genetic information passes into the plant‘s cells. The plant then uses the blueprint introduced in this way to produce the active ingredient.
The first protein produced in the pilot plant in Halle which will be a candidate for clinical development is a patient-specific antibody vaccine for the therapy of non-Hodgkin‘s lymphoma (NHL). NHL is a malignant disorder affecting the lymphatic system. The objective of the new therapy is to activate the patient‘s immune system, enabling the malignant cells to be targeted and destroyed by the body‘s own defense system. Phase I clinical testing is scheduled to begin in 2009. The therapeutic proteins obtained in Halle need to meet certain requirements in order to be used in clinical studies.
”This facility for the production of clinical trial supplies is an important step towards using our technology for the benefit of patients,” said Professor Yuri Gleba, Managing Director and founder of Icon Genetics. ”Using our method, the tobacco plant is able to produce large quantities of complex compounds for medicinal use and it is a particularly rapid, simple, safe and low-cost method.”
The Bayer company involved in this project in a lead capacity is Bayer Innovation GmbH (BIG). BIG, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer AG, evaluates and develops new fields of business for the Bayer Group that are related to Bayer‘s core competencies of health care, nutrition and innovative materials and complement its current key areas of innovation and business.
Icon Genetics is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer Innovation GmbH; it was established in 1999 and acquired by Bayer in 2006. The company develops processes for the biotechnological production of medicines and other high-end products in plants.
Bayer: Science For A Better Life
Bayer is a global enterprise with core competencies in the fields of health care, nutrition and high-tech materials. The company‘s products and services are designed to benefit people and improve their quality of life. At the same time Bayer creates value through innovation, growth and improved earning power. The Group is committed to the principles of sustainable development and acknowledges and accepts its role as a socially and ethically responsible ”corporate citizen”. Economy, ecology and social responsibility are corporate policy objectives of equal rank. In fiscal 2007, Bayer employed 106,200 people and had sales of EUR 32.4 billion. Capital expenditures amounted to EUR 1.9 billion, the R&D budget to EUR 2.6 billion. More information is available on the Internet at http://www.bayer.com.
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