portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

actions & protests | genetic engineering

Meristem sees its development hampered by anti-GMO activities

On the nights of July 18 and 19 of this year, 5,000m2 were damaged close
to Issoire, France. Responsibility was claimed by a group of "voluntary
mowers", which was then followed by two further acts of vandalism. Two
lots of 3000m2 were destroyed during the night on August 1, and a third
field of 3000m2 was destroyed on August 2.
Meristem sees its development hampered by anti-GMO activities

SOURCE: Le Monde, France, by Manuel Armand


Meristem, the French leader of drug development with transgenic plants,
has seen its progression hampered by the anti-GMO spirit. Since the
beginning of summer, Meristem has been victimized by the destruction of
20 hectares of genetically engineered maize.

On the nights of July 18 and 19 of this year, 5,000m2 were damaged close
to Issoire, France. Responsibility was claimed by a group of "voluntary
mowers", which was then followed by two further acts of vandalism. Two
lots of 3000m2 were destroyed during the night on August 1, and a third
field of 3000m2 was destroyed on August 2.

"Does it still make sense to develop a biotechnology project in France"
asked Jean-Paul Rohmer, president of Meristem's Executive Board. "If we
do not have the possibility of growing transgenic plants in conditions of
normal security, our existence will be threatened."

Although the question is not the order of the day, Rohmer does not rule
out the possibility of relocation outside of France. "If it would be
banned and impossible to work here, we would be on the lookout for
somewhere else", he confirmed.

The French government denounced this "act of vandalism" which took place
in a similar way to the vandalism which was previously committed in Tarn,
and has appealed to the courts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Established in 1997 by the cooperative agricultural Limagrain, Meristem
developed a pipeline of drugs designed to cure digestion problems
associated with mucoviscidosis. Located in Clermont-Ferrand, the company
hopes to start phase 3 clinical trials at the end of 2006.

Random dimension

The trials (conducted in more than one hundred patients) need a great
quantity of gastric lipase, a protein derived from Meristem's transgenic
maize.

"The authorisation to bring the drug to the market could occur in 2008,"
estimates Rohmer. "This market represents a hundred million euros per
year. We would have to deliver the protein to a pharmaceutical partner,
who would then produce the drug." One thousand hectares of genetically
modified maize would be necessary for the production of the protein.

From this point of view, Meristem has been making preparations for the
establishment of a factory for lipase extraction in the north of
Clermont-Ferrand. "This investment could add new jobs," explains Rohmer.
"Nevertheless, the act of the 'voluntary mowers' leaves an uncertainty.
All our efforts will be put in jeopardy, if we are not able to grow the
corn close to here."

Also another difficulty could emerge. During clinical development
Meristem is employing 45 people - ten of them with a doctorate degree -
but has not yet recorded any sales.

"Since we started, we had an initial capital of 45 million euros and 7
million is left," Mr Rohmer remarks. The shareholders are Banexi (BNP
Paribas) and Limagrain. "To conduct this project, new funds are
definitely necessary." When asked if the "mowers" are able to scare
investors, Rohmer admitted, "The destructions give our activity an added
dimension of risk."

The French Biotech association regrets this climate of suspicion, too.
"The distance between the United States and Europe in biotechnology
continues to grow," notes Philippe Pouletty, the president of the
association. "In 2004, European investments in biotechnology made up only
17 percent. Although this is not the main factor for our current
problems, the political context significantly contributes to it."