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January 15, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 2)

Capitalizing on Novel Expression Systems

Up-and-Coming Technologies Reportedly Make Products More Efficiently and to Higher Standards

  • Window of Opportunity Still Exists

    Any company involved in the biopharmaceutical sector, regardless of size, may have much to gain by taking account of the technologies available now. As highlighted by the BioPlan report, a number of companies are attempting to get ahead of their rivals before the advantages of early technology adoption and licensing are lost. This includes major companies, with some having paid millions of dollars to acquire companies whose only or primary assets are new manufacturing platforms.

    Other companies have been quietly but actively investigating, optioning, licensing in, and implementing the new technologies they have encountered. For example, in 2006 Merck and Co. spent close to $400 million to acquire GlycoFi.

    Industry observers noted that GlycoFi’s yeast-based, protein-optimization technology complemented Merck’s own capabilities in yeast expression, and that this would benefit the production of the virus-like particles in Gardasil. The move was seen as strengthening Merck’s hand in oncology, which has been declared as one of its nine priority-disease areas for the future.

    Similarly, in 2007, Hoffman-La Roche paid $52.5 million to acquire Therapeutic Human Polyclonals (THP). With its long-standing interest in innovative antibody research, the acquisition was seen as an ideal fit for Roche. The initial intent of the deal was to allow Roche to gain access to THP’s transgenic, rabbit-based mammalian platform for the creation of both monoclonal and polyclonal human antibodies.

  • Outlook

    For companies that have been struggling to develop R&D strategies that will sustain their growth in the long term, biopharmaceuticals offer a promising opportunity. However, success in the new era will depend on more than a traditional attitude to resolving R&D issues and must encompass the technologies used for commercial-scale manufacture of biopharmaceutical products.

    As the market becomes increasingly competitive, those companies that take advantage of the new platform technologies available will secure their industry position in the future. In contrast, those that allow the window of opportunity to lapse will find themselves unable to recover.

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