United Therapeutics signed on to a collaboration with Israel-based CollPlant for the development of 3D-printed lung transplants, using raw materials derived from genetically engineered plants.
The agreement grants an exclusive license covering CollPlant’s recombinant human collagen and bio-ink printing materials to United’s organ-manufacturing and transplantation subsidiary, Lung Biotechnology PBC.
CollPlant will receive $5 million upfront, plus regulatory and operational milestone payments of up to $15 million. To start, CollPlant will manufacture and supply its bio-ink for a few years, to meet the demands for the development process and provide support while United establishes its own U.S. manufacturing facility.
The agreement also gives United the chance to expand the license to cover as many as three additional organs, in addition to lung manufacturing, for up to $9 million plus another $15 million in potential milestones.
Collplant’s rhCollagen is grown from tobacco plants engineered with five human genes that drive the production of collagen in their leaves, which are harvested after about eight weeks. The purified collagen is then used as a building block for the 3D bioprinting of solid-organ scaffolds.
“We are excited to work with CollPlant's extraordinary Israeli technology to transform the tobacco plant that is so associated with lung disease into a collagen-expressing plant that will be essential to the production of an unlimited number of transplantable lungs,” said United’s chairman and CEO, Martine Rothblatt, who was named one of Fierce’s top women in biotech in 2014.
CollPlant will also be able to receive royalty payments on sales, as well as reimbursements for certain costs. The agreement is set to take effect subject to certain closing conditions, including approval from the Israel Innovation Authority.
But both United and CollPlant appear to share a strong faith in the long-term success and reach of the 3D bioprinting technology, declaring in their press release that the agreement’s exclusivity covers its use “throughout the universe.”