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July 9, 2001

Beth Nischik
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX

Release: J01-73

NASA, Synthecon Agree on Protein Pharmaceutical License

NASA has granted biotechnology company Synthecon, Inc. an exclusive pharmaceutical license to produce recombinant human protein drugs in its proprietary Rotary Cell Culture System TM (RCCSTM).

Synthecon is using the RCCSTM technology to develop a recombinant protein drug to treat autoimmune system diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The Synthecon/NASA Rotary Cell Culture System TM technology is expected to increase the efficiency of producing such drugs by at least ten times.

The RCCSTM technology is based on a 1986 NASA invention, known as the bioreactor. The bioreactor is a cell culturing apparatus, having a rotating cylinder developed at Johnson Space Center during research to simulate the way cell cultures grow in weightlessness. Unlike cultures grown in petri dishes on Earth, in weightlessness the cells have no pressure points that can disrupt the culture. To simulate this, the rotating bioreactor was developed. Its rotation and shape reduce pressure points to stimulate the effect of weightlessness, producing high-density cell cultures that would not otherwise grow outside the body.

Synthecon holds an exclusive NASA license to manufacture the RCCSTM equipment, with two more patents pending. Synthecon, Inc. is the manufacturers of 3-dimensional tissue culture systems using licensed NASA bioreactor technology developed for the space program.

“The Human Genome Project mapped all of the human genes,” said Andy Anderson, Synthecon’s president. “Proteomics is an emerging discipline that uses that data to identify and produce human proteins, and the RCCSTM already is a proven tool in these proteomic developments.”

Anderson continued, “If the Genome Project is the diamond mine and the proteomics proteins are the diamonds, then the Rotary Cell Culture System TM is the pick and shovel for getting them out. This new NASA license allows Synthecon to mine some of the diamonds and grant sublicenses to others to use the RCCSTM technology to mine their own proteomics diamonds.”

JSC has an active program to transfer technology designed for space into products to improve life on earth. Space technology in propulsion; structures; energy generation, storage, and transmission; human factors engineering; aerospace medicine; sensors; communications; computers; and materials are transferred from the government to the private sector, often in cooperative development projects with companies such as Synthecon.

For additional information, see Synthecon’s website at: or visit NASA’s Technology Transfer website at:


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