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Safflower-based insulin optioned

A Calgary biotech company using genetically modified safflower plants to make insulin will get US$2.5 million for the option to buy the rights to its end product.

MannKind, a Los Angeles-area pharmaceutical firm developing an “ultra-rapid acting” insulin product, announced Wednesday it will buy the option to license rights to SemBioSys Genetics’ plant-produced insulin.

Under the two companies’ agreement, MannKind will buy 2.4 million units of SemBioSys at US83 cents each. The option period runs until March 31, 2009.

The option, if exercised, would stipulate that the “primary use” of SemBioSys’ safflower insulin would be for Afresa, MannKind’s rapid-acting insulin. Afresa, now in “phase 3” clinical studies, is a pulmonary insulin that would be inhaled through a palm-sized device.

“This option purchase provides further validation of our plant-produced
recombinant human insulin program, and our high volume protein production
platform more generally,” SemBioSys CEO Andrew Baum said in a release Wednesday.

“We believe MannKind’s Afresa program has the
potential to transform the treatment of diabetes and that our cost-effective
production system would provide them with significant cost benefits over
existing production methods.”

SemBioSys’ safflower insulin is now in “phase I/II” clinical trials using up to 30 healthy volunteers. Its latest study aims to show the “bioequivalence” of safflower-produced insulin to two commercial insulin standards. Full results from its study are expected to be available during the first half of 2009, the firm said.

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