Home grown

LED lights cast a magenta glow over iBio’s growing room during a tour of the facility Tuesday. Plants from the tobacco family, foreground, are grown and used to produce proteins for medical purposes.

With American and Chinese flags flanking each side of a podium at the Stella Hotel, executives from locally based iBio and CC-Pharming of Beijing announced Tuesday a joint development project of a therapeutic antibody product for the Chinese biopharmaceutical market.

CC-Pharming and iBio leaders remarked after the news conference about the symbolic and tangible importance of a partnership between an American and a Chinese company amid trade tensions between the two countries. 

The two companies are working to develop a plant-based improvement on rituximab, a monoclonal antibody medication approved by the FDA in 1997. Rituximab was designed to fight non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and other autoimmune diseases. The World Health Organization added the drug to its list of essential medicines, but Kevin Wang, chairman of CC Pharming, said during Tuesday's news conference that rituximab is unaffordable for most people who need it around the world.

"I believe that all people in developed countries need this technology," Wang said. "I believe this collaboration will benefit not only the Chinese people but the American people and people around the world."

A developer and manufacturer of plant-based biopharmaceuticals, iBio operates on the ATLAS corporate campus inside the 1,000-acre Lake Walk area.

CC-Pharming, which specializes in plant molecular medicine technology research and product development, is located in the Shunyi District of Beijing in northern China.

"The category of products we're collaborating on are called biologics, or biotherapeutics," Erwin explained. "They're not chemically synthesized. ... They're made using plants, and plants are much less expensive, and they're just as capable of making biotherapeutics as the old technology is.

"It may not be what people expect to see a small Texas-based biotech company and a small company in China working together, but it's probably the wave of the future. ... The future is gonna be made up of inventions created by people anywhere in the world who come together and choose to collaborate."

"This partnership is not only just a business partnership, but friendship between my company and iBio," Wang said.

The therapeutic antibody is the first product focus of a July agreement executed between iBio and CC-Pharming. iBio will provide process development and manufacturing services at its ATLAS facility for initial product development and will assist CC-Pharming in facility design and optimization for eventual manufacturing in China. CC-Pharming will manage all operations in China, with iBio participating through joint ownership of the China business and ongoing collaboration.

"This is good business. This is income-producing for our community," said Barry Holtz, iBio CDMO, a subsidiary of IBio, Inc. "This is a bipartite relationship. It's not flowing one way or another -- it takes two to make this work. The history of success of biopharmaceuticals has not been just U.S. based. It's been global."

Brazos County commissioners Steve Aldrich (Precinct 1) and Irma Cauley (Precinct 4) attended the event, as did Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson.

ATLAS/Lake Walk/Traditions principal Spencer Clements spoke during the news conference about the area partnership's impact on the Brazos Valley economy. 

"These jobs, they don't just serve the local market," Clements said. "These jobs at iBio are exporting talent out to the world, as we're seeing here today. People are coming here and seeking this talent and this expertise, and it's going to transform our business climate here in the Brazos Valley."

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