By Randall Osborne

SAN FRANCISCO — Elizabeth Dole, president of the American Red Cross, called upon biotechnology companies to consider partnerships with the nonprofit, pointing out that the agency's Rockville, Md.-based Holland Laboratory has 55 "initiatives" that include candidates for collaborations.

"Together, you and I will be privileged to touch and transform millions of individual lives we're dedicated to serve," Dole said in a speech to more than 300 attendees at Allicense '98, a forum for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

The Red Cross, Dole said, "look[s] forward to working even more closely alongside you in the days and years to come."

Her speech marked the start of a two-month national tour celebrating the $287 million overhaul of blood collecting and purifying procedures that began in 1991.

She addressed Allicense '98, a forum sponsored by San Francisco-based consulting company Recombinant Capital, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, of Palo Alto, Calif., a law firm specializing in the life sciences business.

"Some of our citizens are still apprehensive [about the blood supply], and they should not be," Dole said. "We have achieved a new American miracle in blood."

Among the blood-related services is gene amplification testing (GAT) of donor blood, which the Red Cross does "not because it's required, but because it's the right thing to do to ensure the maximum safety of the blood supply."

GAT directly detects the genetic material of viruses rather than virus antibodies.

Red Cross Already A Biotech Deal-Maker

Biotech and the Red Cross already have several deals.

In January, the Red Cross entered an agreement with Pharming Holding NV, of Leiden, the Netherlands, for the development and commercialization of blood-clotting proteins Factor VIII, Factor IX and fibrinogen, which will be produced in the milk of transgenic animals.

The work is being done through a U.S. subsidiary called Pharming Healthcare, which licensed technology for the proteins from American Red Cross Biomedical Services, of Arlington, Va.

"Within six years, we hope to provide patients with access to safe, unlimited and cost-effective supplies of these much needed medical treatments," Dole said.

When Dole took her post at the Red Cross, she said, the agency's blood services seemed doomed. "I had to decide in the first days of my new life, before I could even prop Bob's picture up on my new desk, whether I should turn and run or turn it around," she said. Her husband, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, was the Republican candidate for president in the 1996 election.

Now, the Red Cross has "pulled ahead of the pack," she said, adding that its blood program's technology and methods provide "Cadillac quality coupled with Volvo security."

As a result, the agency offers "facilities and the infrastructure necessary to meet any manufacturing need," including the needs of biotech, Dole said.

Dole told BioWorld Today the Red Cross' primary appeal for biotech firms is the agency's "extremely valuable" intellectual property.

"The combination [of biotech and the Red Cross] is excellent," she said, and research at the Holland Laboratory is steadily advancing.

Dole called the lab "an absolute jewel in the Red Cross. It's really a well-kept secret at this point, which we are going to change."

The lab operates on an annual research and development budget of about $30 million, which includes about $8 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md.

Judith Hautala, senior director of administration at the Holland Laboratory, said scientists are developing new blood assays and working on therapies related to the cellular components of blood, such as stem cells and macrophages.

Basic biomedical explorations are turning up possibilities at Holland as well, Hautala said.

"There are technologies and inventions that come out of that part of the research with applicability to things like autoimmune diseases, or Alzheimer's, or cardiovascular disease," she said.

The Red Cross will be seeking partners to help push related products into sales, Hautala added.

"We would not be involved in marketing, but we will provide the technology, much as an academic institution would," she said.

Dole said no moves had been made toward using in genetic research any of the blood from the Red Cross' 20,000 daily donations, but Hautala said some "very, very limited" testing is performed.

"Under proper consent and so forth, we occasionally ask donors if they'd be willing to have certain kinds of tests done," Hautala said, adding that some tests are done "in an unlinked fashion, as a normal control."

Dole, asked about the hotly contested subject of genetic testing, declined to comment.

"This is really off my radar, frankly," she said. "It's not on my desk." *