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GEN News Highlights : Oct 22, 2009

Lonza Takes Equity Stake in Ciliate-Expression System Company

Lonza will transfer Tetrahymena IP to Cilian in return for option on new products.

Lonza is taking an equity stake in German company Cilian and will thus have first right of refusal to new products. Cilian specializes in the use of Tetrahymena ciliates as a production platform for therapeutic proteins.

The new deal will involve Lonza transferring its own patented IP in the field of Tetrahymena thermophila to Cilian. Lonza will, in return, have an option for the commercial production of products developed by Cilian, which are based on this IP. The companies have not disclosed how many newly issued shares in Cilian Lonza is acquiring. 

Ciliates of the genus Tetrahymena are eukaryotic single-cell micro-organisms that are ideally suited for the production of proteins used for therapeutic purposes, Cilian claims. The organisms are characterized by unique genetics and cell biology, which have allowed the company to develop a heterologous expression system, Cipex, as a platform for industry partners.

The company maintains that the functional simplicity of Cilian’s production media and processes translate to particularly high process flexibility. This means Tetrahymena can be cultivated using market standard bioreactor equipment used for bacteria or yeast with straightforward scale-up to 500 L (stir tank) and 1,500 L (air lift) batch fermentation.

Ciliates also produce large quantities of endogenous enzymes, which have the potential for therapeutic use in specific disease models, Cilian adds. The company is exploiting this to develop its own pipeline of proteins. The lead product is Ciliates Enzyme Preparation (CEP), Cilase®. It is being developed as an oral treatment for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

EPI is a condition currently treated using animal-derived pancreatic enzyme preparations (PEPs). Cilase contains endogenous ciliate lipases and proteases, which Cilian suggests has optimal characteristics for the digestion of lipids and proteins in human food. In contrast to traditional PEPs, however, Cilase can be harvested through fermentation. Cilian aims to develop Cilase up to the clinical stage and then license out the product for further development.