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Deal Aims to Grow “Humanized” Organs in Pigs for Transplantation

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transplanted into a human patient with end-stage lung disease.

Pig organs are anatomically about the same size as human organs, and the methods needed to raise pigs in sufficient numbers are already well-understood, Venter said.

Still, it would be a “huge leap,” Venter explained. The DNA synthesis, genome editing, and genome modification technology that would be required has been perfected for humanized monoclonal antibodies—individual immune cells. But nobody has been able to rewrite so much of the genetic code, or even attempted to, he said.

More than 400,000 people die each year in the United States from various types of lung disease, including cancer, Venter said. Only about 2,000 lung transplants are done annually, according to the Registry of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, due primarily to a donor lung shortage.

In the statement today, the companies say, “Not even 1 percent of deaths due to lung failure can be avoided due to the gross shortage of transplantable human lungs. Previous attempts to rectify this shortage with animal organs have failed due to genomic incompatibilities, especially with respect to immune and coagulation systems. The collaboration between Synthetic Genomics and Lung Biotechnology aims to eliminate these genomic incompatibilities.”

United Therapeutics, founded in 1996, generates all of its revenue from drugs and related products used in cardiopulmonary medicine, which amounted to over $289 million in the quarter that ended March 31. Yet the company also says on its website, “While building business value in the cardiopulmonary medicine field, we are also laying important foundations for future franchises in lung transplantation.”

Venter said he met United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt several years ago, and described himself as “a long-term fan of what they’ve been doing.” He added that discussions leading to their collaborative agreement began early this year.

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