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Licensing Deal for Bioinks in 3-D Printed Transplant Lungs

Human lungs illustration


22 Oct. 2018. A company in Maryland developing alternatives to human organ transplants is licensing a technology to help create 3-D printed lungs for transplantation with bioinks derived from tobacco plants. The deal with Lung Biotechnology PBC in Silver Spring could bring CollPlant, a regenerative medicine company in Ness Ziona, Israel as much as $44 million if all aspects of the agreement are completed.

Lung Biotechnology is a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corp. that aims to create more options for patients seeking lung and other organ transplants, where there are now shortages of human organs available for transplants. The company began in 2006 developing treatments for pulmonary arterial hypertension, a condition where small blood vessels in the lungs become scarred and narrow, creating resistance to blood flow in the lungs. Because the only option for many patients with this condition is a lung transplant, the company expanded its work into alternatives to transplanting human organs, such as xenotransplantation — with organs derived from non-human animals — and tissue engineering.

CollPlant’s main product is an engineered form of human collagen called rhCollagen, short for recombinant human collagen. The company makes rhCollagen from tobacco plants engineered with 5 human genes, which take about 8 weeks to grow. Extracting, processing, and purifying the tobacco leaves, says CollPlant, returns a pristine form of human collagen — the most abundant protein in the body found mainly in skin, bones, and and muscles — that performs better than collagen derived from animal and even human tissue.

Further processing of rhCollagen makes it possible to derive products for tissue engineering, including artificial tendons and bioinks for three-dimensional printers. Those 3-D inks, says the company, are formulated as liquids for printing, but are then cured by ultraviolet or visible light to form hydrogels.

The new agreement gives Lung Biotechnology an exclusive license to rhCollagen bioinks to 3-D print scaffolds for lungs transplanted in humans. For the first few years of the deal, CollPlant will provide bioinks for Lung Biotechnology’s research and development of synthetic transplantable lungs. During this time, CollPlant will work with United Therapeutics, Lung Biotechnology’s parent company, to build a facility in the U.S. to produce rhCollagen and bioinks.

Under the deal, Lung Biotechnology is paying CollPlant an initial fee of $5 million, with CollPlant eligible for another $15 million in milestones payments for development and regulatory clearance of manufactured lungs. The agreement gives United Therapeutics the option to license rhCollagen for production of up to 3 more 3-D printed organs for transplant. Should United Therapeutics decide to exercise those options, CollPlant will be eligible for another payment of $9 million, and further milestone payments of up to $15 million. CollPlant is also eligible for royalties on sales of products from the collaboration, as well as reimbursement for other unspecified costs.

CollPlant is a spin-off enterprise from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded by botanist and biotechnologist Oded Shoseyov, whose lab studies plant molecular biology, protein engineering, and nanobiotechnology. Shoseyov is listed as inventor on 45 patents, and also a serial entrepreneur, founding 9 other companies in addition to CollPlant.

The PBC following Lung Biotechnology’s name stands for Public Benefit Corporation, a corporation that aims to make profits and return profits to its investors, but also dedicates some of its resources for chosen public benefits that cannot be diminished or diverted from year to year.

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