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Intrexon Acquires Oxitec, Partners on Genetic Disorder

Diamondback moth

Diamondback moth (Olaf Leillinger, Wikimedia Commons)

10 August 2015. Intrexon Corp., a biotechnology company specializing in synthetic biology, is acquiring Oxitec Ltd., a designer of genetically modified insects to control the spread of disease-bearing and agricultural pests for $160 million. Intrexon is also partnering with Synthetic Biologics Inc. to develop therapies for phenylketonuria, a genetic metabolic disorder.

Intrexon, in Gaithersburg, Maryland develops genetically engineered products for the pharmaceutical, food, energy, environmental, and consumer markets. The company operates several technologies derived from computational models and software that assemble DNA-based solutions on a commercial scale.

Oxitec, in Oxford, U.K., is a spin-off enterprise from Oxford University that develops genetically engineered insect varieties. Under the merger, Oxitec shareholders will receive $80 million in cash and another $80 million in Intrexon stock. The deal is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

In July 2015, Oxitec released results of controlled tests in greenhouses that show its genetically engineered diamondback moth could prevent females of the species from maturing, and quickly reduce populations of this destructive agricultural pest. Caterpillars from the diamondback moth eat brassica or crucifer vegetable crops including popular items such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale. Controlling the diamondback up to now relied on pesticides, but in recent years, the moth developed a resistance to synthetic, biological, and plant-expressed pesticides, as well as some types of crops genetically engineered to survive the moth.

Also in July, an Oxitec-designed mosquito, engineered to produce offspring that die before maturity, was found to reduce the dengue mosquito population in a city in Brazil by 95 percent, well below the level needed to spread the disease.  Dengue is viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes (not person-to-person) that occurs most frequently in tropical urban regions of the world. World Health Organization estimates from 50 to 100 million dengue infections occur each year, with half of the world’s population at risk.

In a separate deal, Intrexon and Synthetic Biologics Inc. in nearby Rockville, Maryland, agreed to an exclusive channel collaboration to develop therapies for phenylketonuria, an inherited metabolic disorder. Exclusive channel collaborations give Intrexon partners an exclusive license to develop new products from Intrexon technologies, move those products through regulatory processes, and conduct marketing and sales. Financial terms of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Phenylketonuria is a rare disorder where an amino acid called phenylalanine builds up in the body, particularly when the individual eats foods high in protein. The condition is caused by a defect in the gene that creates a liver enzyme to control phenylalanine and results in delayed development, intellectual disabilities, behavioral and emotional problems, psychiatric disorders, and neurological problems including seizures.

The agreement with Synthetic Biologics gives the company a license to therapy candidates from Intrexon’s ActoBiotics platform that develops therapies from engineered microbes commonly used to produce yogurt and cheese. The company modifies the organisms to produce therapeutic peptides and proteins that it says are taken orally, produced efficiently, and released in the gastrointestinal tract.

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