What if a biotech company would run its business with plants as raw materials? We looked at the biotech Plant Advanced Technologies (PAT) (France) aims to push back the frontiers of plant ‘sourcing’, by producing industrial biomolecules in plants without killing them!
Only a few thousand of plants are quite well exploited in green biotech over around 450,000 species of plants identified. Plants feed and treat us thanks to active compounds. Within a phenomenal reservoir, a substantial part of biodiversity potential is yet to be discovered.
PAT was born in 2005 in Nancy (East France), by the co-founders Jean-Paul Fèvre (CEO), Frédéric Bourgaud and Eric Gontier. They aimed to use plants to reveal and produce rare and new biomolecules for pharmaceutical, cosmetic and agro-chemical industries.
With more than 450 species of plants cultivated in their greenhouses, PAT already owns rights to around 25 active compounds which they have discovered. And its focus as a biotech is built on the relevance of its patented technologies to green movements at the French National Institute of Industrial Property, and last year during the COP21 summit (initiative for Climate change).
A partnership with the Biochemical giant BASF, has helped the business development of PAT to really diversify, with the development of bio-pesticides and takeover of several French companies. These include Synthelor (fine chemicals), Strati-Cell (a dermatology testing company for cosmetics) and Couleur de Plantes (working on natural dyes).
Indeed, €1M of its turnover has been generated thanks to its first product developed for a global leader in the luxury sector, CHANEL.
In 2012, when this cosmetics and fashion leader signed the deal with PAT for the launch of a new Anti-ageing cream range, over 1,200 square meters of soil-less culture was developed in PAT greenhouses. This was to produce and purify a polyphenolic Edulis extract (a powerful cosmetic anti-aging compound).
So how does PAT extract these useful biomolecules? There are two main technologies…
PAT PLANT MILKING Technology
Pat Plant Milking is a world exclusive technology platform licensed from INRA and University of Lorraine. It is a sustainable sourcing solution to produce exclusive and personalised (and ethical!) active chemicals extracted called Exudactive. It is a living process using living plants root exudation to extract specific active compounds.
Actually, PAT uses aeroponics systems (without the use of soil) to grow plants without then killing the plants during extraction. The plants are ‘bio-stimulated’, which allows them to produce high yield of high-value natural compounds.
This stimulation works by mimicking an attack on the plant using bio-agents, and this then triggers the natural defences of the plants to produce the desired compounds.
The extraction solution (‘Exudactive’) is harvested by plunging the roots, then purified and concentrated according to the quality expected. This unique non-destructive process of milking is manageable on the same plants up to 8 cycles per year, so valuable medicinal compounds can be produced sustainably and even amplify yield by up to 30 times.
For example, one Mexican species being ‘milked’ by PAT has a compound being used to treat Osteoporosis. And another Carnivorous type has is being investigated for anti-cancerous properties. Other species are also being studied for therapeutic benefits in Alzheimer’s Disease…and even anti-inflammatories.
The potential is massive…and according to PAT the key value here is that many other uses lie undiscovered in these species, so keeping them alive for research is a big benefit in drug discovery.
2. The PAT FRIDAY Platform
PAT also aims to be the world first to extract human therapeutic proteins for medical research from genetically modified carnivorous plants – such as Drosera (commonly known as ‘Sun dews’).
‘PAT Friday’ is the technology platform which targets plants like these – i.e. those that naturally secrete substances externally, such as Nepenthes (tropical pitcher plants) or Drosera’s sticky modified leaves.
PAT Friday presents 2 main advantages. First, PAT offers a secure technology platform avoiding the health risk related to animal viruses and prions (since neither bacteria nor mammalian cells are used). Secondly, according to PAT, the transgenic plants used to represent an economic benefit because the harvest of therapeutic proteins is technically easy and non-destructive (and easy to scale up!).
Moreover, the cost of the purification is strongly reduced because the number of unwanted proteins is reduced substantially.
This is an interesting opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry using the natural mechanism of secretion from leaves. And according to Jean-Paul Fèvre (CEO), one therapeutic protein can worth between €1-10 million per gram (!) on the market.
In 2009 the company had already raised about €2M in 2 years after being listed on the Paris NYSE Euronext. Last year, PAT also undertook a transfer on Alternext Paris Euronext and has since risen around €7M. This recent increase in capital has therefore helped PAT to really accelerate its development…
For example, PAT is in the process of launching an R&D greenhouse: PAT Zerbaz as a subsidiary on the tropical French island, Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean.
So, with such a lucrative market, and a diverse number of sectors interested in this environmentally friendly, green (and attractive) approach to chemical production, the future of Plant Advanced Technologies certainly seems bright!