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Ostrich Antibodies to Fight Resistant Infections


(Michael Day, Flickr)

5 December 2016. A biotechnology company developing antibodies grown in ostrich eggs is partnering with a Boston hospital to test a new treatment for Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, a stubborn infection, increasingly resistant to antibiotics, and often contracted in hospitals. Financial aspects of the agreement between OstriGen Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston were not disclosed.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost a half-million C. difficile infections occurred in the U.S. in 2011, leading to 29,000 deaths within 30 days of diagnosis. The infections are often contracted in health care facilities, such as clinics and hospitals, causing inflammation in the colon, and symptoms including watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, and fever. People who have other illnesses or conditions requiring prolonged use of antibiotics, and the elderly, are at greater risk of this disease.

OstriGen is a 2 year-old company licensing and commercializing the research of veterinary medicine professor Yasuhiro Tsukamoto at Kyoto Prefecture University in Japan. Tsukamoto and colleagues study adapting the immune system of the ostrich to develop human antibodies. The ostrich, notes the company, is an ancient species, which over its 23 million years has formed a strong immune system that reacts to a wide range of antigens and produces a high volume of immunoglobulin Y antibodies.

A single ostrich hen in her 55-year lifetime, says OstriGen, can produce 22 kilograms of immunoglobulin Y antibodies in the yolks of her eggs, about 4 grams per egg. Moreover, adds the company, antibodies produced in ostrich eggs can withstand digestive acids and enzymes, making the antibodies good candidates for orally-administered drugs.

The agreement with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and OstriGen calls for the company to collaborate with gastroenterology researchers Ciarán Kelly and Xinhua Chen. Kelly studies intestinal infections and inflammation, while Chen is researching the C. difficile infection process and interactions between the disease and with probiotics. Kelly and Chen are producing deactivated C. difficile toxins which are injected into ostrich eggs at OstriGen’s lab in Japan to produce antibodies. Those antibodies will then be submitted for preclinical tests against active toxins in Beth Israel Deaconess labs.

Kelly says in an OstriGen statement that ostrich-produced antibodies could fill an important therapeutic gap against C. difficile infections. “We think that immunotherapy employing oral ingestion of ostrich antibodies,” notes Kelly, “could be an effective, economic prophylaxis and treatment for C. difficile infection, fitting into a treatment spectrum between vaccination and antibiotics.”

OstriGen is also working with U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases to assess potential efficacy of ostrich-produced antibodies against a number of viral diseases, including Ebola, Zika, and MERS. The company is also partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital in a project similar to Beth Israel Deaconess, to produce ostrich antibodies against cholera.

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