BioWorld International Correspondent

ZICHRON YAAKOV, Israel - Protalix Biotherapeutics Ltd., which focuses on biopharmaceuticals expressed in its plant cell bioreactors, closed a $5.3 million private placement of its Series C preferred stock.

The round was funded by new investors Tamares Capital, Docor International Ltd. and Atara Technology Ventures Ltd. Returning investors included Biocell Ltd. and Marathon Investments Ltd.

David Aviezer, CEO of Protalix, told BioWorld International: 'In the last few years, Protalix has demonstrated its capability to manufacture almost any human recombinant protein via its patented plant-based expression platform." The company has taken its lead compound - Glucocerebrosidase, for the treatment of Gaucher's disease - into clinical trials.

Aviezer added that Protalix will use the proceeds to advance Glucocerebrosidase through clinical studies, to develop its discovery programs and collaboration programs, and to expand its technological platform and manufacturing capabilities.

Gaucher's disease causes a shortage of glucocerebrosidases, enzymes needed to prevent the pathological accumulation of fatty molecules in various organs. There are an estimated 10,000 patients in the world suffering from Gaucher's disease, which is relatively frequent among Ashkenazi Jews. There are an estimated several hundred cases of Gaucher's disease in Israel.

In April, Protalix signed a two-year research program involving multiple license agreements with Icon Genetics AG, of Germany, following a year-long scientific collaboration. The goal is to develop plant cell lines as a general platform system for ultra-high-level expression of recombinant proteins, with financing coming in part from Bio-DISC - the Israel Germany binational research and development fund.

Protalix will acquire various worldwide licenses to develop Icon's technology regarding the Protalix field of activity - the expression of human recombinant proteins within plant cell cultures using the Protalix bioreactor system. Part of those licenses, addressing a list of specific drugs currently under development by Protalix, will be exclusive.

Icon's technology uses regulated release of amplicons from a chromosome of a plant cell. That system provides for a high amplification level of the gene of interest and simultaneous shut-off of the other biosynthetic processes in the cell, resulting in the highest theoretically possible yield and relative yield of a recombinant protein in a plant cell.

Aviezer commented on the transaction: "The collaboration with Icon and the executed licensing agreement enable us to increase the expression yields of the cell cultures we utilize, by orders of magnitude. Thus, we will be able to manufacture the drugs we are developing even more efficiently and rapidly. The Icon technology shall serve as an additional layer of the economical advantages the Protalix technology exhibits, and will significantly contribute to the value appreciation of the entire company."

Alon Dumanis, CEO of Docor International, will join the Protalix board.

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