BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - About 3,000 square meters of genetically modified corn being cultivated by Meristem Therapeutics for the production of gastric lipase was trashed by anti-GMO activists Friday night.

The destroyed area was part of a 40,000-square-meter field of GM corn located not far from Meristem's head office in Clermont-Ferrand. In the same region, the company has a second 70,000-square-meter field of GM corn that also is being grown for the extraction of gastric lipase. The product is required for an ongoing Phase II trial being conducted in France, Belgium and the UK to evaluate gastric lipase as a treatment for digestive disorders in patients suffering from cystic fibrosis.

Meristem, which specializes in the production of recombinant proteins in plants, issued a statement deploring the "terrorism against medical research." It said its partner, the Conquer Cystic Fibrosis association, had erected a sign at the field indicating that the corn was being grown for the production of medicines. The fact that gastric lipase had been granted orphan drug status by the European Medicines Evaluation Agency only last month, Meristem added, "signified that there is an unmet medical need for this leading genetic disease in Western countries."

As to whether the setback will impact Meristem's development program, the company's marketing and communications manager, Emmanuel Bourès, told BioWorld International that it was too early to say.

"We will have to wait until the corn is harvested in October," he said. Yields were already expected to be down because of this summer's drought in France. Meristem is hoping to have gastric lipase on the market in Europe by 2007 or 2008.