BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Meristem Therapeutics signed a partnership agreement with Goodwin Biotechnology Inc. with the aim of expanding the use of its corn- and tobacco-based plant cultivation systems in North America.

Based in Clermont-Ferrand, France, Meristem focuses on plant engineering, the production of recombinant proteins and active substances from plants. Under this agreement, Goodwin, of Plantation, Fla., will act as a bridgehead for Meristem's plant engineering technology and facilitate its future contacts, particularly with U.S. regulatory bodies.

At the same time, the companies will set up a pilot manufacturing facility for the cultivation of genetically modified plants and the extraction and purification of recombinant proteins, with a view toward expanding Meristem's production capacity. The company already operates an industrial-scale plant in France, where it extracts and purifies large quantities of complex proteins with therapeutic applications at low cost and to GMP standards.

Meristem CEO Bertrand Merot told BioWorld International that Goodwin was a "landing strip for Meristem in the U.S." He described the alliance as a "midway solution" between establishing a subsidiary in the U.S., which would "take time," and taking over a U.S. company, which would be "risky." That said, Merot revealed that the agreement not only provided for Meristem to make an up-front payment of $500,000 to Goodwin, but also gave it the option of acquiring the company over a two-year period.

Goodwin is a privately owned company that specializes in the manufacture of recombinant products to GMP standards for use in Phase I/II clinical trials, with particular expertise in the production of monoclonal antibodies for pharmaceutical companies developing therapeutic and diagnostic products. According to Merot, it has a turnover of $4 million a year, while Meristem's revenues will jump to $10 million this year as a result of its takeover last November of Sedaherb, of Saint Léger sur Dheune, France, a supplier of phytopharmaceuticals (plants from which therapeutic compounds can be extracted) to the pharmaceutical industry in Europe. Commenting on the acquisition at the time, Merot stressed that Sedaherb generated significant revenues - FFr23 million (US$3.4 million) in 1999 - and was profitable. (See BioWorld International, Nov. 8, 2000.)

For Goodwin, the deal with Meristem gives it a second string to its bow since, as its president, Brandon Price, pointed out, "We will be able to offer two systems of production to our customers at the same time: production of recombinant proteins in plants and also by cell culture." In that regard, Merot said that plant engineering was a value alternative, since the U.S. suffered from a "shortage of fermentation capacity."

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