Pharming, which develops innovative protein therapeutics, has recently beeing focusing on a single product, a complement C1 inhibitor made in the milk of transgenic rabbits that is currently in Phase III testing for patients with a rare genetic disorder called hereditary angioedema.
However after a difficult period over the last few years, culminating with a slide into receivership in 2001, the company completed a refinancing package in January that has brought in the funds needed to allow it to broaden its focus.
This will include the commercialisation of lactoferrin, a transgenically-produced protein that has applications across the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical sectors.
Lactoferrin is a protein found naturally in milk and other endocrine secretions and is believed to play a role in stimulating the body's immune system to fight cancer and infections, and protect against asthma and other allergic diseases.
ProBio also has a technology platform in transgenic protein production and Pharming has now increased its stake in this firm from 20 to 45 per cent. Plans are to enter the Asian market, where lactoferrin is already allowed in most countries, including Japan, Korea and Indonesia, and consumer awareness of its benefits are considerably higher than in Europe.
In addition to its ambitions for its transgenically produced lactoferrin in Asia, the company is hoping to get GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) approval in the US in 2005, clearing the way for it to be used there in food applications.
Transgenic production in animals lends itself to a specific niche, namely the production of bulk complex proteins for human uses that require post-translational modifications that are not achievable with plant systems or mammalian cell culture, said Frank Pieper, the company's chief scientific and technical officer.
Other lactoferrin producers, also from the Netherlands, include DSM and DMV.