Washington Editor

In a $1 million deal, PPL Therapeutics plc sold its xenograft, stem cell and polyclonal antibody research division.

Regenecor Holdings Inc., a privately held Delaware corporation, was formed in order to purchase the division, called the Regenerative Medicine Business, or PPL Therapeutics Inc., of Blacksburg, Va., a wholly owned subsidiary of PPL Therapeutics plc, of Edinburgh, Scotland.

David Hall, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health Ventures, who spoke on behalf of Regenecor, told BioWorld Today the equity transaction gives PPL a 22.2 percent interest in the new company. The deal also included a "minor cash consideration," he said.

Geoff Cook, CEO of PPL in Scotland, said the company sought to sell the division in order to concentrate on its core business in therapeutic proteins. "We felt it was timely because we got the xenotransplantation to a point where it was well placed for the next stage, i.e., we had done the double-knockout pigs and the next phase of the research is to do the species-to-species transplantation, to demonstrate 100 days of survival, then move into the bigger studies," Cook told BioWorld Today.

"This was a good time for PPL to exit because beyond that, it was not an area of competence for us, and it was the most expensive phase of the project. So, we've maintained a 22 percent stake in Regenecor going forward, which allows us to participate in the upside."

Now, PPL goes back to its three lead products: recombinant alpha-1 antitrypsin for heredity emphysema and cystic fibrosis; bile salt-stimulated lipase for pancreatic insufficiency and pre-term infants; and fibrin or surgical sealant.

"The thing we do best is add genes in, and knock genes out," Cook said. "In the xenotransplant program, we successfully managed to produce the double-knockout pigs, so our job was done effectively in terms of our areas of expertise."

Meanwhile, Lisa Rossi, spokeswoman for the newly formed Regenecor, said the company's research and development in xenotransplantation will focus primarily on the shortage of human organs for transplantation. The stem cell research, which is not as advanced as the xenotransplantation, has implications in diabetes and neurological diseases, while the polyclonal antibodies likely have uses in vaccines for HIV and hepatitis, and perhaps anthrax, she said.

Regenecor Holdings will consist of two subsidiaries, one in Virginia and the other in Pittsburgh. The Virginia division will retain the 24 PPL employees who will carry on the research work. The Pittsburgh division will handle clinical trials.

Regenecor was formed by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Highmark Health Ventures Investment Fund LP, of Pittsburgh; and Fujisawa Investments for Entrepreneurship LP and Fujisawa Investments for Entrepreneurship II LP, of Wilmington, Del. The investors put up $3.5 million for Regenecor Series A preferred stock.

In a prepared statement Regenecor said federal funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program will help fund production and differentiation of stem cells from nonhuman primates and livestock species, and a multiyear contract with the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will support the polyclonal antibodies program for biomedical countermeasures.

PPL and the Roslin Institute in Scotland collaborated in the production of Dolly the sheep.