Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Transgenic (& biosimilar!) FDA approval!

Congrats to Protalix and Pfizer for receiving FDA approval for Elelyso, a drug to treat Gaucher's disease. The Protalix product will compete with the insanely expensive Genzyme product, Cerezyme.

What makes this approval especially noteworthy is that Elelyso is produced in carrots, making it the first FDA-approved transgenic drug.

Transgenics have been in development for two decades, but the challenges of the science have been significant, as has been reluctance on the part of regulators and payers, as they wondered if transgenics could really be bio-identical.

Also interesting, but not noted in the article: Elelyso may have also broken ground as the first biosimilar approved by the FDA. In this case, the resulting molecule is the same, though the expression system is obviously very different. I wonder if we'll see biosimilar makers trying this backdoor approach as well.

Now that Protalix has burst both the transgenic and biosimilar dams, it will be interesting to see the industry response. For starters, I think we'll see Genzyme cutting their price on Cerezyme to match Protalix/Pfizer, in spite of all of their previous protestations that the current price of $200,000/year is justified.

Personally, I'm happy to see this transgenic enzyme for Gaucher's disease receive approval. Approximately 15 years ago I was mildly involved with a research team trying to do the same thing using tobacco as an expression system, with the same goal of a massive price reduction for Gaucher's patients. We never succeeded, for a variety of reasons, but I've always been hopeful that someone else would.

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