Bayer buys Icon, enters plant-made pharma market

LEVERKUSEN, Germany—With an eye to strengthening its efforts to produce next-generation drugs in plants, Bayer Innovation recently acquired Icon Genetics, a Munich-based biotechnology company. Financial details were not released.

Randall C Willis
LEVERKUSEN,Germany—With an eye to strengthening its efforts to produce next-generation drugs in plants, Bayer Innovation recently acquired Icon Genetics, a Munich-based biotechnology company. Financial details were not released.
According to Dr. Detlef Wollweber, Bayer Innovation managing director, the two companies have collaborated on a variety of projects to evaluate the yields and quality of selected preclinical pharmaceuticals expressed in plants. "Icon was able to develop high expression protocols for all of these proteins very quickly, and our analyses left us fully satisfied with the expression yields and quality, as well as the functionality of the material produced in plants," he adds.
Icon Genetics has been involved in developing the technologies and platforms behind plant-made pharmaceuticals (PMPs). Using its magnICON technology platform, Icon was recently involved in efforts byArizonaStateUniversity's BioDesign Institute to produce a novel vaccine against the microbe that causes the plague (see E030620).
There are presently no plans to change Icon's organization, structure or locations, according to Dr. Gert Seidl, Bayer Innovation project leader. The acquisition decision was largely an effort to gain access to Icon's IP portfolio, as well as its talent and core competencies. Initially, Bayer will work to integrate the research and process development activities of the two groups, and then aim to define proteins for potential development. The acquisition also allows Bayer to further leverage synergies between its CropScience and HealthCare divisions, adds Seidl.
"It is believed that demand for biopharmaceutical proteins will soon exceed the industry's current production capacity (via traditional mammalian cell production); therefore, new production technologies will need to emerge for the industry to keep pace with demand," says Prof. Yuri Gleba, Icon Genetics CEO. "We believe that PMPs offer the biopharmaceutical industry viable solutions to the demand-supply differential, as well as additional competitive advantages versus therapeutics produced via traditional mammalian cell production."
Bayer is apparently not alone in this belief. Anne Anscomb, an analyst with Kalorama Information, indicates that several PMPs are moving through regulatory channels now and the first such product—Planet Biotechnology's CaroRX—may enter the market this year. "If clinical trials proceed according to plan, and if regulatory delays are minimal, several more products­—many of which are approaching clinical testing in 2006 will be on the market by 2012—increasing sales in this market over 140% to exceed $12 billion in 2012," she says.
"Once regulatory approval has been granted for the first therapeutic proteins manufactured from transgenic animal and plant platforms, the companies competing in this sector will be positioned to not only generate revenues from product sales, but also from licensing their production technology to other biopharmaceutical companies and by providing contract manufacturing services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies," she adds.
At the same time, the folks at Bayer remember the backlash—particularly withinEurope—against genetically modified organisms, and are making moves to preempt any concerns. "We are aware that concerns exist around PMPs and are committed to exploring such applications in a careful manner that is respectful of the needs of our stakeholders and society," says Bayer's Wollweber.
"Icon's transient expression technology creates the possibility of producing adequate quantities of most biopharmaceutical proteins to meet world demand utilizing potentially less than a hectare of plant material, which can thus be cultivated in fully contained greenhouse facilities," he adds. "Additionally, for purposes of ensuring the integrity of the food chain, Bayer would aim to use non-food crops for the production of PMPs."

The market potential for PMPs definitely looks rosy, according to Kalorama's Anscomb. Bayer Innovation is betting a farm—if not the farm—that she's right.

Randall C Willis

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