A Calgary-based biotech firm has just announced that it has found a way to make human insulin from safflowers.
The company, called SemBioSys, first began experimenting in the genetic modification of plant seed oils a number of years ago.
It used these genetically modified oils to create proteins to be used in drugs.
From that starting point, researchers were led to experiment with synthetic insulin production.
They inserted a human insulin gene into a safflower plant. As the plant grew and seeds developed, researchers were able to recover human insulin.
Andrew Baum, president and CEO of SemBioSys, says the next goal is to demonstrate that this new insulin source works as well as any product currently on the market.
If, in fact, the “safflower insulin” controls blood glucose levels just as well, this is big news for diabetes sufferers.
“We believe that when we’re successful, people in the developing world, who otherwise wouldn’t get insulin because there isn’t enough supply or they can’t afford it, will get it,” said Mr. Baum.
Drug companies have so far used genetically engineered bacteria and yeast to produce synthetic insulin. This synthetic insulin is then stored in large steel vats.
SimBioSys hopes to prove that their insulin works as well as the current synthetic version. The company can then make a request to the FDA to begin human clinical testing.
SimBioSys says that it can make one kilogram of human insulin for every acre of safflower plants.
With worldwide demand for insulin expected to reach 16,000 kg by 2010, SimBioSys’s insulin could very well become a life saving resource.
2,500 diabetics could be treated per year with one kilogram of the new insulin.
And the total insulin demand in 2010 could be met with less than 16,000 acres of safflower.
Mr. Baum has said that safflower-produced insulin could reduce capital costs by 70%. He estimates that production costs would also be lowered by 40%, when compared to current insulin production practices.
SemBioSys has also pointed out that it would need about $80-million in capital investment to make 1,000 kg of insulin. This is a much lower amount than the $250-million per 1,000 kg for traditional insulin.