Posts Tagged ‘Protalix’

Plant-Based Antibodies, Vaccines and Biologics 5, Part 5

3 September, 2013

Session 6:Vaccines II

This was SUPPOSED to open with a report from Medicago Inc, on ‘Developing plant-made influenza vaccines: From discovery to commercial scale production’  – but didn’t, because they were all shaken up (in a good way) by having been effectively bought by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation, and no-one came.

This is a success story in its own right, however, as their recent and highly successful activities in the areas of making influenza vaccines and human rotavirus VLP-based vaccines in plants marked them out as a target for acquisition by Big(gish) Pharma – for which we commend them.

It is sad, however, that their only presence at the conference was on the back of my windbreaker B-)

Konstantin Musiychuk (Fraunhofer USA) was the first up, then, speaking on ‘Preclinical evaluation of VLP-based malaria transmission blocking vaccine’.  He described how there are 3 types of intervention that may work with malaria: these are at the pre-erythrocytic, blood stage, and transmission blocking stages of infection.  Antibodies to Pfs48/45, Pfs230 proteins block the fertility of or destroy the macrogamete.  Pfs25 and 28 Abs block the ookinete to oocyst developmental phase; all potentially block transmission.  Accordingly, they expressed these as fusions with the alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV) CP with mutation(s) to prevent glycosylation.  The Pfs25 protein was the best candidate; they cloned a mutated version (glyc-), fused at the N-terminus to AMV CP, and expressed via their TMV-based “launch vector” after vacuum infiltration.  He noted that the fusions have full-length and proteolysed products – which is needed for VLP formation as native CP is needed to avoid steric hindrance in assembly.  They obtained nice particles as shown by EM, showing surface decoration.  Dynamic light scattering [Ed: must get me one of those…] results show a nice tight range of 17nm particles.

They used the products with/out Alhydrogel as adjuvant, IM in mice: they got good titres maintained >170 days, with  2x inoculation.  They diluted test sera with naive human serum and used this to membrane-feed mosquitoes, then after 1 week dissected them and assayed for parasites: oocyte counts in mid-gut reflected efficient blocking of acquisition.  The adjuvant+ doses worked well down to 0.1 ug (100%).  Single doses of 1, 5 or 25 worked 100% as well.  After 6 months, 5 and 25 ug doses still gave 90%+ blocking.

They made GMP lots, very pure:  2 doses at 0 and 21 days resulted in complete blocking down to 0.3 ug, with >99% blocking after 40+ days.  Tox studies were fine, although the  Alhydrogel apparently causes some side effects.   Scaleup from 1-50 kg showed no changes in the Ag.  The Phase 1 trial is expected in Q3 2013.

This was most impressive: it is to be hoped that the promise is maintained!

Yoseph Shaaltiel (Protalix Biotherapeutics, Israel) spoke on Protalix’s new product: this was alpha galactosidase-A, for the treatment of Fabry disease.  This is an X-linked lysosomal storage disease that results in massive storage of glycolipid Gb3, in cells, in the vascular system and elswhere, which impairs the tissue of the heart and affects kidney and other organ function.  There were worse consequences than with Gaucher disease, while it was less obvious.  The current therapy was seen as being bad, and patients had reduced life expectancy.  There were 2 therapeutic enzymes on the market: these were Agalsidase Alfa and Beta; these were very inefficient and expensive, so cost benefit was very limited.  1/2 life in blood was normally just a few minutes, and the proteins were very immunogenic.

Protalix aimed at making a biobetter: this was made in tobacco cells cultured in bags (they used Icon vectors, so could not work in their favoured carrot), by cocultivation with Agrobacterium and then killing the bacteria.  The protein subunits were PEGylated to reduce immunogenicity and x-linked using bis-NHS-PEG.  This gave improved stability, longer circulatory 1/2 life, enhanced activity in target organs with similar to improved kinetics, so lower dosing and longer intervals between doses were possible.  Yields were good too, and they could make the enzyme very pure.  The product had the same kinetics as the commercial products with better activity over a wide pH range.

As far as glycosylation was concerned, the commercial product had very complex glycosylation, while the plant-made product’s profile was very consistent and simple.  It had an enhanced circulatory 1/2 life, of 581 vs 13 min, and also had higher activity in target cells – heart, kidney – over time.  Yoseph noted that the  patents on the enzyme(s) were limited to CHO cell production, meaning they had a useful window to exploit.

A comment from Jim Carrick was that the FDA was not interested in PEGylated products, as this could lead to vacuolation of kidneys in the long term.  Yoseph said their product was not the same, as normally PEGylation added 20-40 kDa, whereas theirs was a much shorter x-linker.  Their product was, moreover, already in clinics, as the  FDA had said they should move straight to patients rather than testing it in healthy people.

Lydia Meador (Arizona State University) reported on their lab’s HIV vaccine candidate, made in plants and also vectored by NYVAC-KC delB19 poxvirus.  They had previously shown that a CTB-HIV membrane proximal region (MPR) fusion vaccine resulted in Ab that stops transcytosis of HIV by Ab; she noted that live vectors enhance T-cell responses compared to subunit vaccines, so a combination would be a good idea.

Accordingly, they had cleverly produced whole HIV Gag and a deconstructed gp41 – stable Gag transgenics, and transiently-produced dgp41 – in the same plants, to make 100nm VLPs.  While VLPs are highly immunogenic alone, they wanted to prime with the NYVAC and boost with plant-made antigen.  They obtained good p24 Ab responses with NYVAC and the VLP boost; gp41 less so.  In terms of mucosal immunity, they saw the IgA response against gp41 was significantly higher in the NYVAC+VLP combination, as were CD8+ T-cells.  She noted that the anti-NYVAC titre was high after 3x doses.  In response to my question, she did not know if the NYVAC vaccine made VLPs in mice – which it may not do, even if it works in plants, due to different protein requirements for budding in mouse vs plant cells.

Daniel Tusé (Intrucept Biomedicine, Kentucky) – a company founded with Kenneth Palmer – spoke on ‘Safety and efficacy of plant-produced Griffithsin for antiviral indications’.  He noted that while griffithsin was an excellent anti-HIV microbicide, it was also a reasonably broad-spectrum antiviral lectin, as it was effective against the recently-emerged MERS CoV and  influenza viruses.

The protein was hard to make from seaweed, and E coli was useless for production; however, they got g/kg in tobacco via conventional rTMV vectors, and now even better with Icon and Nomad vectors.  KBP had manufactured it to near-GMP production standards, again at g/kg yields, with product recovery at 30% from leaves and 50% from leaves + stems, to a final purity of 99.8%.  The potency was the same as the alga-derived product, and they had 100s of gm of product.

As griffithsin binds HIV with very high affinity, its primary use would be as a topical microbicide, to prevent transmission of HIV and HSV; to prevent coronavirus infections, and to act on chronic virus infections.  The protein is not mitogenic on PBMC and does not activate T cells; it does not produce inflammatory cytokines in human PBMC, unlike cyanovirin, which had a much worse proinflammatory profile.  The epithelial toxicity was also very low, which was in contrast to some well-publicised agents which had disastrously resulted in increases of HIV acquisition in women using them.

A carbopol-based gel was found to have the best drug-release kinetics, so was adopted for formulating the product for use.  This protects mice against genital herpes: herpes has 2x the risk of infection per exposure compared to HIV infection.  The gel has broad specific activity against coronaviruses too, to a wide spectrum of viruses from human, cow, chicken and pig.  It could protect mice against SARS CoV, if given intranasally at 2 doses/day.

The protein also has uses in prevention of infection in the organ transplant area, eg against hepatitis C virus (HCV): it prevents infection of Huh-7 cells by cell-culture derived HCV, and partially protects hepatocytes from viral spread in vivo.  If injected in animals it persists, and maintains an anti-HIV activity.  It is immunogenic, but only weakly so, and Ab to it don’t neutralize its effects.  Their lab was using rational design to take out T-cell epitopes without affecting antiviral activity.

Daniel stressed that this is a new drug, which can be preferentially be made in plants at high yield, with very low cost of goods; that it was effective and safe.

Hugh Haydon (KBP) mentioned that the cost of goods was “pennies/dose”.

Session 8:

This was an interactive discussion session, addressing the topic ‘Commercialisation of molecular pharming products – objectives and targets for the next 5 years’.

The panel: from left - Hugh Haydon, Kevin Whaley, John Butler, Scott Deeter, Einat Brill

The panel: from left – Hugh Haydon, Kevin Whaley, John Butler, Scott Deeter, Einat Brill

Hugh Haydon of Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), , speaking on behalf of the new MAPP, KBP and Icon collaboration, addressed product selection.  He noted that MAPP was responsible for product development, Icon for technology development and purification, and KBP for large-scale manufacture.  They had spun out Solmab as a collaborative vehicle for production of MAbs for infectious disease therapy.

He described their product selection rationale: this was based on

  • proof of concept data
  • platform suitability
  • capacity for dual use of product
  • availability of capital
  • speed of the regulatory process
  • regulatory success rate
  • scalability of existing infrastructure

Accordingly, they had selected a “biobetter” of Synagis, and an Ebola MAb cocktail.  The Synagis equivalent was better due platform parameters, known clinical parameters, the fact there were established markets which can grow, government and NGO humanitarian interest, and potential adaptation to other viruses.  For Ebola, they had a 3 MAb cocktail that was known to work, strong government interest (for a stockpile), a more rapid regulatory pathway, and a tropical disease voucher from the FDA.  He pointed out that these products won’t make blockbuster status, but are appropriate for small companies like theirs.

Kevin Whaley (MAPP) spoke on how we needed therapeutics that were multipurpose (disease, indication) as well as multi-vaccines.  The attributes of the new biologics were multi-use, speed of production, scale of production, and cost advantage – especially for global health products costing <$US10/g, at scales of >10K kgs, with increased efficacy (pathology, cancer), increased acceptability and access.  He noted that all modern paediatric vaccines are multi – this saves visits to clinics, especially in developing countries.

Scott Deeter (InVitria) noted that the biologics market was edging up to being worth $US125 billion – and reckons progress with plant-produced products is excellent.

John Butler (Bayer) thinks we are still looking for suitable products!  He was of the opinion that initial targets were too difficult (eg NHL – and flu??!), and that improved product characteristics must benefit from being plant-made.  He was adamant that PMP must not compete on price with other platforms – because there was no such thing as a bottleneck in fermentation capacity world-wide, and established industry could just cut prices if they wanted to.  He spoke of real and perceived hurdles:

  • regulatory pathway isn’t a hurdle
  • plant vs human glycosylation is not either, as plant-specific glycans were not more immunogenic than human

Real risks were that:

  • there were well-established alternatives
  • the plant-made product industry was overstretched in terms of resources

Einat Brill (Protalix) addressed their future strategy:

  • new biologics for orphan indications (clinical trials were smaller, one needed only several 10s kg a year for an entire disease cohort)
  • recombinant vaccines
  • hard to express proteins that were best expressed in plants

ApApproved biologics:

  • Biobetters of commercial products
  • They would continue to establish PMP regulatory environment as a viable route for biologic drugs development
  • Biobetter efficacy: longer circulatory half life for favourable clinical outcome
  • regimen frequency: longer treatment intervals due to increased drug stability, with lower dosing
  • Changing administration route (eg: oral vs injectable): helps to improve patient compliance

This was an excellent session, if only to hear how people who have been involved in getting PMPs to the market viewed the prospects for the industry – and it appeared favourable, despite John Butler’s caveats.

Plant-Based Vaccines, Antibodies and Biologics 5: Part 1

27 June, 2013

Plant-Based Vaccines, Antibodies and Biologics: the 5th Conference

Verona, Italy, June 2013

The return of this biennial meeting to Verona – the third time it has been held here – was a welcome change; while the previous meeting in Porto in 2011 may have been good, the city was nothing like as pleasant a place to relax.  My group is now familiar enough with Verona that we know just where to go to get pasta by the riverside – or, on this occasion, “colt loin with braised onion and potatoes” and “stewed horse with red wine”.  Which seem more palatable, somehow, as “Costata di puledro con cipolle brasate e patate” and “Stracotto di cavallo speziata” respectively, but were enjoyed anyway.

The conference kicked off with an opening plenary session, chaired by the Local Organizing Chair, Mario Pezzotti, of the University of Verona.  The headline act was a talk on taliglucerase alfa – aka glucocerebrocidase, a Gaucher Disease therapeutic  –  by Einat Almon of Protalix Therapeutics from Carmiel, Israel.  I featured the product here last year, after an earlier feature here; suffice it to say that it has soared since FDA approval, and now Protalix is pushing hard with new plant-made products to follow it up.  While they use carrot cells for taliglucerase alfa, apparently they are using suspension-cultured tobacco cells for other products – and are using an easily-scalable disposable 800 litre plastic bag system, with air-driven mixing of cells suspended in very simple, completely mammal-derived product free media.  Hundreds of patients had been treated with the drug for up to 5 years with no ill effects, and the possibility of switching therapies from mammalian cell-made products to the plant cell-made had been successfully demonstrated.

Scott Deeter of Ventria Biosciences (Ft Collins, USA) spoke next, on “Commercializing plant-based therapeutics and bioreagents”.  His company has possibly the most pragmatic attitude to the production and sale of these substances that I have yet met, and he struck a number of chords with our thinking on the subject – which of course, post-dates theirs!  Ventria use self-pollinating transgenic cereals for production of seed containing the protein of interest, and rice in particular, for safety reasons – and because the processing of the seeds is very well understood, and the purification processes and schedules are common to many food products and so do not require new technology.  He reckoned that a company starting out in the business needed an approved product in order to give customers confidence – but should also engage in contract services and contract manufacture of client-driven products in order to avoid being a one-product shop.  To this end, they had received APHIS Biological Quality Manufacturing Systems (BQMS) certification (similar to ISO9001), with the help of the US Biotechnology Regulatory Services.

Their therapeutic products included diarrhoea, ulcerative colitis and osteoporosis therapeutics which were already in phase II clinical trial.  Scott noted that in particular, recombinant lactoferrin was a novel product, which could only feasibly be produced in the volumes and at the price required for effective therapy, by recombinant plant-based production systems.  It also filled a high unmet need as a therapy for antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in the US, with +/-3 million patients at risk annually who presently cost service providers over $1500 each for treatment.

A third commercialization option was bioreagents and industrial enzymes, which they marketed via a vehicle called InVitria: they had a number of products already in the market, which Scott claimed gave confidence to the market and to partners, while building capacity to make therapeutics.  Something that was particularly attractive to our prospects was that a collection or pool of small volume products – say $5-10 million each – gave a respectable portfolio.  He noted that Sigma Aldrich and Merck were already marketing their human serum albumin, which competed effectively with serum- and yeast-derived products.

George Lomonossoff from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, spoke next on “Transient expression for the rapid production of virus-like particles in plants” – a subject close to our hearts, seeing as we have for the last five years been associated with George and partners in the Framework 7-funded PlaProVa consortium.  He mentioned as an object example the recent success in both production and an efficacy trial of complete Bluetongue virus (BTV) serotype 8 VLPs, made in Nicotiana benthamiana via transient expression using their proprietary Cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) RNA2-derived pEAQ vector: this was published recently in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Another very useful technology was the use of CPMV capsids as engineered nanoparticles: one can make empty VLPs of CPMV at high yield by co-expressing the coat protein (CP) precursor VP60 and the viral 24K protease: the particles are structurally very similar to virions in having a 0.85 nm pore at 5-fold rotational axes of symmetry, meaning they can be loaded with (for example) Co ions.  It is also possible to fuse targeting sequences – such as the familiar RGD loop – into the surface loops of the CPMV CPs, and to modify the inner surface too.  One application would be to engineer Cys residues exposed on the inside, which could bind Fe2+ ions: this would result in particles which could be targeted to cancer cells by specific sequences, then heated using magnetic fields.

John Butler of Bayer Innovation GmbH (Leverkusen, Germany) closed out the session with an account of lessons learned from the development of the plant-derived non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) vaccine, that they had acquired with Icon Genetics, who in turn had inherited it from the sadly defunct Large Scale Biology Corp.  It was rather depressing to hear that Bayer had dumped the vaccine, despite the developers having reached their targets in turning 43 of 45 tumour samples into lifetime individualized supplies of vaccine within12 weeks, and despite the phase I trial being as successful as could be hoped.  To this end, the vaccines had been well tolerated and were immunogenic; of the patients who reacted immunologically, all but one were still tumour-free presently.

He felt that the problem was that NHL trials were too long and therefore too expensive as it was a slow-progressing disease; that a different clinical approach was needed, and that using the vaccines as a first-line therapy instead of only after the 2nd or 3rd relapse would be a much better idea.  The main lesson learned was that proving the technology would be far better done with a therapeutic vaccine for a fast-acting cancer, which would allow 1-2 year clinical trials with overall survival as an endpoint.

(more coming)

…and here they come…

8 February, 2010

…Big Pharma, to the biopharming revolution, that is.  Following on from earlier news about Protalix’s glucocerebrocidase successes, comes this latest snippet from Nature Biotechnology:

Pfizer stakes a claim in plant cell–made biopharmaceuticals

Mark Ratner

On December 1, Pfizer became the first big pharma to commit to take to market a late-stage biologic drug produced in plant cells. It acquired rights to taligurase alfa, a form of the enzyme glucocerebrosidase in development for the treatment of Gaucher’s disease, from Protalix Biotherapeutics in Carmiel, Israel. Protalix has completed phase 3 studies and has submitted a new drug application for the drug, also known as prGCD, eyeing US marketing approval in 2010. At the request of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year, the company has already begun supplying prGCD to patients in the US under an expanded access program and similarly to patients in the EU under a compassionate-use protocol [my emphasis - Ed].

Very interesting development, this: while Bayer led the way in acquiring plant expression vector maestros Icon Genetics a couple of years ago, there has not been much interest by Bigger Pharma in getting hold of the plant-expressed biologics startups – but expect things to change, starting now.

Ratner goes on, quoting Yuri Gleba of Icon / Bayer:

…Icon’s Gleba acknowledges that Protalix’s success in product development with prGCD shows they have a keen business sense. “If you are not strong on one side you have to compensate by being excellent on another, and by all accounts, they are,” he says. The deal with Pfizer and the approval of prGCD “should open the floodgates, in my opinion,” he says. “It is by far the most significant development in the plant-made pharmaceuticals arena right now.”

The floodgates are opening; Big Pharma is at the door – finally!

Plant therapy creeping in….

8 September, 2009

The August issue of Nature Biotechnology has a very interesting snippet of news – from two points of view. From a strict virology point of view, it is interesting that commercial production of a therapeutic enzyme in an industrial plant can be shut down because of infection of their mammalian cell line with a contaminating mammalian virus.

From the second point of view…well, our lab has a very strong interest in producing recombinant proteins (and especially candidate vaccine proteins) in plants – and here is a story showing just why plants may be a really good alternative means of production for pharmaceuticals.  First, the story:

Nature Biotechnology 27, 681 (2009) doi:10.1038/nbt0809-681a
Virus stalls Genzyme plant by Victor Bethencourt

Genzyme of Cambridge, Massachusetts, faces millions in lost revenue from its top-selling specialty drugs Cerezyme and Fabrazyme as result of a viral contamination at its Allston, Massachusetts plant. The company has announced that it will temporarily shut down the facility owing to a bioreactor contamination with Vesivirus 2117 [my emphasis - Ed], which does not cause human infections, but impairs growth of the biologics-producing Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. It reportedly originated from tainted nutrient medium and belongs to the same strain that caused delays at the Allston site and its European biologics plant in Belgium last year. Genzyme anticipates supply constraints of Cerezyme (imiglucerase), a treatment for Gaucher disease, and Fabrazyme (agalsidase beta), used to treat Fabry disease, while the facility shuts down for 6 to 8 weeks to allow decontamination.

OK, really interesting, that: a vesivirus – genus Vesivirus, family Caliciviridae, nice link here for structure, and here for Genzyme’s press release – that is being transmitted around via cell culture media, between manufacturing plants.  One of the perils of using mammalian cells to make things…!

http://www.caliciviridae.com/vesivirus/vesivirus.htm

Vesivirus via kwout

The article goes on:

…With sales of $1.2 billion for Cerezyme and $494 million for Fabryzyme in 2008, analysts estimate the manufacturing crisis will result in $100–300 million in lost sales. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has contacted rival manufacturers Shire of Basingstoke, UK, and Carmiel, Israel–based Protalix, who have enzyme replacement therapies for Gaucher disease in clinical trials, to file treatment protocols, which would allow physicians to use their drugs ahead of approval.

And of course, Protalix makes its glucocerebrocidase in cultured carrot cells, in disposable “bioreactor bags”….  In completely defined chemical media, with no risk of plant virus contamination – not that plant viruses can infect cultured plants cells, by any means short of being shot in on gold beads!  Their web site Press Room page had this to say as of 25th August:

Aug. 25, 2009 (Business Wire) — Protalix BioTherapeutics, Inc. (NYSE-Amex:PLX), announced today that it has received Fast Track Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prGCD, the Company’s proprietary plant-cell expressed recombinant form of glucocerebrosidase (GCD) for the treatment of Gaucher disease.

I wrote the following about Protalix after attending the Plant-Based Vaccines and Antibodies Conference in Verona in June this year (September issue of Expert Rev Vaccines, 8: 1151-1155, 2009):

“Einat Almon-Brill (Protalix Biotherapeutics, Israel) described their production of recombinant human glucocerebrosidase (rGCD) as a therapy for Gaucher disease, caused by a hereditary mitochondrial defect.  They used a contained disposable bioreactor system with suspension-cultured carrot or tobacco cells, and claimed there were no mammalian cell culture risk factors; they obtained uniform glycosylation, and the exposed mannose allowed rapid macrophage uptake.  The rGCD half-life was twice as long as commercial product, and had been trialled in Europe, Israel, South Africa, and North and South America.”

I wish I’d bought stock…or had the money to, or knew how to!  The time of plant-made pharmaceuticals – PMPs – is coming.

Be ready…B-)


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