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Biotech Alliance to Humanize Pig Lungs for Transplant

Craig Venter

Craig Venter (J. Craig Venter Institute)

7 May 2014. Synthetic Genomics Inc. in La Jolla, California and Lung Biotechnology Inc. in Silver Spring, Maryland are developing synthetic lungs from pigs for patients with end-stage lung diseases needing a transplant. While all financial aspects of the deal were not disclosed, United Therapeutics Corporation — the parent company of Lung Biotechnology — is making a $50 million equity investment in Synthetic Genomics, a company founded and led by genomics pioneer Craig Venter.

Lung transplants become urgent for patients with advanced respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary hypertension when they no longer respond to medication and become life-threatening. Finding lungs for transplant, however, is difficult since they rarely come from live donors. And when donated lungs can be found, transplants run the risk of immune-system rejection by the recipient, with added risks such as diabetes and kidney damage from drugs to control rejection.

The companies say some 400,000 people die each year from lung diseases, but only about 2,000 receive transplants, with another 2,000 added annually to the waiting list for new lungs. Previous attempts to fix this problem with animal lungs failed because of genomic incompatibilities, the companies add. They say their collaboration aims to resolve these genomic barriers.

Pigs are increasingly used in translational research because of their physiological and anatomical similarity to humans, including cardiovascular organs. In this collaboration, Synthetic Genomics will employ its DNA synthesis and genome editing tools to develop engineered primary pig cells with modified genomes.

Lung Biotechnology will apply its expertise in engineered lung tissue and whole lungs for transplant to implant these modified pig cells to generate pig embryos that can be born with humanized lungs. The companies do not give a timetable for their project, but it is characterized in their joint statement as a “multi-year research and development agreement.”

In addition to the investment by United Therapeutics, Synthetic Genomics will receive milestone incentives and royalties from the development and commercialization of the organs. In 2011, United Therapeutics acquired Revivicor Inc., a biotechnology company developing alternative sources for tissue to treat degenerative diseases requiring transplants.

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Hat tip: MedCity News

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