Pilot plant for future-oriented technology opens in Halle

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.

For­ward-Look­ing State­ments
This release may con­tain for­ward-look­ing state­ments based on cur­rent assump­tions and fore­casts made by Bay­er Group or sub­group man­age­ment. Var­i­ous known and unknown risks, uncer­tain­ties and oth­er fac­tors could lead to mate­r­i­al dif­fer­ences between the actu­al future results, finan­cial sit­u­a­tion, devel­op­ment or per­for­mance of the com­pa­ny and the esti­mates giv­en here. These fac­tors include those dis­cussed in Bayer‘s pub­lic reports which are avail­able on the Bay­er web­site at http://www.bayer.com. The com­pa­ny assumes no lia­bil­i­ty what­so­ev­er to update these for­ward-look­ing state­ments or to con­form them to future events or devel­op­ments.