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Checkbiotech: Meristem sees its development hampered by anti-GMO activities
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: September 06, 2005 07:27AM ; ;

Meristem, the French leader of drug development with transgenic plants, has
seen its progression hampered by the anti-GMO spirit. Since the beginning of
summer, Meristem has been victimized by the destruction of 20 hectares of
genetically engineered maize,September 2005 by Manuel Armand translated by
Katharina Schoebi, Checkbiotech.

On the nights of July 18 and 19 of this year, 5,000m2 were damaged close
to Issoire, France. Responsibility was claimed by a group of "voluntary
mowers", which was then followed by two further acts of vandalism. Two lots
of 3000m2 were destroyed during the night on August 1, and a third field of
3000m2 was destroyed on August 2.

"Does it still make sense to develop a biotechnology project in France?"
asked Jean-Paul Rohmer, president of Meristem's Executive Board. "If we do
not have the possibility of growing transgenic plants in conditions of
normal security, our existence will be threatened."

Although the question is not the order of the day, Rohmer does not rule out
the possibility of relocation outside of France. "If it would be banned and
impossible to work here, we would be on the lookout for somewhere else", he

The French government denounced this "act of vandalism" which took place in
a similar way to the vandalism which was previously committed in Tarn, and
has appealed to the courts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Established in 1997 by the cooperative agricultural Limagrain, Meristem
developed a pipeline of drugs designed to cure digestion problems associated
with mucoviscidosis. Located in Clermont-Ferrand, the company hopes to start
phase 3 clinical trials at the end of 2006.

Random dimension

The trials (conducted in more than one hundred patients) need a great
quantity of gastric lipase, a protein derived from Meristem's transgenic

"The authorisation to bring the drug to the market could occur in 2008,"
estimates Rohmer. "This market represents a hundred million euros per year.
We would have to deliver the protein to a pharmaceutical partner, who would
then produce the drug." One thousand hectares of genetically modified maize
would be necessary for the production of the protein.

From this point of view, Meristem has been making preparations for the
establishment of a factory for lipase extraction in the north of
Clermont-Ferrand. "This investment could add new jobs," explains Rohmer.
"Nevertheless, the act of the 'voluntary mowers' leaves an uncertainty. All
our efforts will be put in jeopardy, if we are not able to grow the corn
close to here."

Also another difficulty could emerge. During clinical development Meristem
is employing 45 people ? ten of them with a doctorate degree ? but has not
yet recorded any sales.

"Since we started, we had an initial capital of 45 million euros and 7
million is left," Mr Rohmer remarks. The shareholders are Banexi (BNP
Paribas) and Limagrain. "To conduct this project, new funds are definitely
necessary." When asked if the "mowers" are able to scare investors, Rohmer
admitted, "The destructions give our activity an added dimension of risk."

The French Biotech association regrets this climate of suspicion, too. "The
distance between the United States and Europe in biotechnology continues to
grow," notes Philippe Pouletty, the president of the association. "In 2004,
European investments in biotechnology made up only 17 percent. Although this
is not the main factor for our current problems, the political context
significantly contributes to it."


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