US firm plans to commercialise catalysts for decontamination.

US firm plans to commercialise catalysts for decontamination.

The US biotechnology firm Genencor has announced plans to commercialise two novel types of enzyme that, respectively, are able to eliminate prions and decontaminate certain organophosphate-based nerve agents, such as sarin.

Genencor developed the anti-prion enzyme in conjunction with the UK government’s Health Protection Agency (HPA), which was set up in 2003 to protect people from infectious diseases, poisons, and chemical and radiological hazards. The organophosphate-decontaminant enzyme was originally developed by the US army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC).

Prions are the infectious proteins thought to be responsible for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), the fatal neurological disease that affects cows, and variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of BSE. At the moment, there are no commercially available treatments for prion diseases and so preventing infection is of utmost importance.

Genencor and the HPA have developed a thermostable protease enzyme that can target and inactivate the BSE prion molecule. Experiments carried out by the HPA showed that the enzyme eliminated prions in an in vivo mouse model, as well as in rendered meat and bone meal. Genencor plans to market the enzyme as a decontaminant for surgical instruments, and is currently preparing a regulatory dossier to submit to the European Commission.

Under Genencor’s agreement with the ECBC, it has gained an exclusive licence to commercialise the anti-organophosate enzymes, which it plans to formulate within foams, sprays or detergents. As well as the detoxification of nerve agents, Genencor plans to market the enzymes for the bioremediation of industrial and agricultural waste sites. It anticipates launching the enzyme-based product in the second quarter of this year.

Jon Evans