PARIS - Meristem Therapeutics, which produces therapeutic proteins and active substances from plants, has taken over another French company, Sedaherb, a leading supplier of phytopharmaceuticals - plants from which therapeutic compounds can be extracted - to the pharmaceutical industry in Europe.

Based in Saint Liger sur Dheune, Sedaherb has become an operating subsidiary of Meristem, and its CEO, Guy Potier, has been appointed phytopharmaceuticals director of Meristem, of Clermont-Ferrand. Meristem's CEO, Bernard Mirot, said that Sedaherb not only generated significant revenues - of FFr23 million (US$3.4 million) in 1999 - but also was profitable, "which is very important for cultivating a biotechnology company."

The acquisition extends Meristem's activities across the whole production chain of active pharmaceutical compounds derived from plants. It already utilizes the technologies of molecular farming and plant engineering to produce novel therapeutic agents through the cultivation of genetically modified plants to produce recombinant proteins with therapeutic applications. It has installed plant cultivation, extraction and purification facilities that enable it to produce large quantities of complex proteins at low cost, and to GMP standards.

In September, the company said it completed a Phase I trial of a therapeutic agent for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, which was the first drug developed from plant engineering in Europe to have been taken into clinical trials. The protein tested in the trial was gastric lipase, which was obtained from genetically modified maize seeds.

Meristem has two other products that it hopes to take into clinical development within the next two years. One is human collagen, a protein used in skin repair and reparative surgery, and the other is human lactoferrin, a protein secreted in mother's milk that protects against infections. Both have been successfully produced in maize and tobacco.

The company's work force of 75 increased to 87 through the takeover of Sedaherb.

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