The main activity of Canada's SemBioSys is development of protein-based pharmaceuticals to tackle metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Its leading candidates are recumbent human insulin and CVD drug Apo Al, both of which are produced using safflower as the host.
However the company has identified opportunities for its technology outside its core market - in this case stepping up to demand for vegetarian rennet in cheese production.
It has signed an option agreement with Argentina's Instituto de Agrobiotecnologias Rosario (INDEAR), a joint venture between Bio Sidus NS BioCeres, to evaluate the potential of using its chymosin - rennet - from safflower in cheese production in South America.
Rennet is a natural enzyme used in cheese production, as well as other foods. It originally came from cows' stomachs, but according to the company most of the rennet used today is produced using a fermentation process.
SemBiosys says chymosin is significantly cheaper to produce using its proprietary plant expression system, however. The company could not be reached prior to publication of this article for an indication of the level of these savings - nor why the innovation may be of particular interest to the South American market.
"Our work with chymosin is quite advanced and we believe it offers compelling economic advantages relative to traditional sources of chymosin enzyme," said SemBioSys president and CEO Andrew Baum.
Under the terms of the option agreement, the biotech company will receive an option fee from INDEAR. Should INDEAR chose to exercise its option, SemBioSys will be in line to receive an upfront license fee, possible milestone payments, and profit-sharing fees.
Financial details of the arrangement have not been disclosed.