Prothya Biosolutions’ ‘panacea’ is saving lives

Human plasma is an amazing substance; it contains thousands of proteins that are essential for our bodies to function. For people who are deficient in one or more of these proteins, donor plasma can be a real lifesaver. One of Hid’s earliest residents, Prothya Biosolutions, produces plasma-derived medications in close cooperation with a number of Sanquin units.

Blood consists of about half plasma and half blood cells. Plasma is mostly water with proteins, including antibodies, enzymes and hormones. The rest of the plasma consists of substances such as sugars and fats. In fact, plasma is a means of transporting cells and substances through the body. Proteins, in particular, form an incredibly important part of plasma. There are thousands of different types that all have their own function in the body. For example, some help to make blood clot in the event of an injury. Others help the immune system fight off pathogenic invaders in the body.

Prothya Biosolutions extracts various proteins from donor plasma and uses them to make medications. ‘These plasma medications greatly improve patients’ quality of life and can even save lives,’ says Ruud Zoethout, Vice President of Commercial Operations at Prothya. ‘They are used to treat over one hundred different diseases. Our most prescribed drug is Nanogam, which contains the protein immunoglobulin. Nanogam could be considered a kind of panacea, or ‘bullet’, because it can be used to treat so many different diseases. For example, it is often prescribed for the treatment of hereditary immune disorders, as well as for a wide variety of autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body’s own cells, as in the case of neuromuscular disorders (muscle diseases). It is administered to patients intravenously and contains 10% immunoglobulin.’

Over 1,200 patients in the Netherlands receive Nanogam to treat various conditions.

Fighting coronavirus
In addition to ‘regular’ Nanogam, Prothya has also developed a special version that contains antibodies against the COVID-19 virus. ‘The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport commissioned this special version of Nanogam in 2020 in order to offer a treatment option during the second wave of the pandemic,’ says Ruud. ‘It is made from the plasma of people who have recovered from COVID-19 and contains their antibodies against the virus. We now know that these antibodies are not sufficiently effective in treating patients who are hospitalised with COVID-19, as these patients have already produced anti-COVID-19 antibodies themselves. For this reason, we have now shifted towards administering this experimental drug to patients with impaired immune systems who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. The special version of Nanogam is currently being used for these patients. The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has tasked us with collecting clinical data in order to draw better conclusions about whether the drug has the desired effect.’

Close cooperation with Sanquin
The creation of the special coronavirus version of Nanogam is an excellent example of fruitful collaboration between Prothya and the various units that make up Sanquin. ‘It starts with the Sanquin Blood Bank, which reached out to thousands of donors and asked those who had tested positive for coronavirus to donate plasma,’ explains Ruud. ‘We then worked with Sanquin Research, which developed a test enabling us to isolate the correct antibodies against the COVID-19 virus. Finally, Sanquin Diagnostics measured whether the donated plasma and our finished product contained sufficient antibodies.’ The new Nanogam version is also notable for how quickly it was developed. ‘On average, a “normal” batch of Nanogam takes around six months to produce, from the time the donated bags of plasma arrive at our facilities to the release of the finished product,’ says Ruud. ‘But by adhering to a tight schedule, we managed to produce this special batch in half the time – only three months. This was largely possible because we work so well together – we have a long history of cooperation with Sanquin Blood Bank, Research and Diagnostics.’

Turbulent year
The past year has been a turbulent one for Ruud and his colleagues: on 1 January 2021, the company – formerly known as Sanquin Plasma Products (SPP) – came under new ownership and management. It is no longer part of the Sanquin Foundation. ‘Sanquin remains a shareholder and an important partner,’ says Ruud. ‘We will absolutely continue to collaborate with the various Sanquin units, but we are now forging our own, independent path.’ SPP and its sister company, Plasma Industries Belgium (PIBe), were also consolidated into a single organisation earlier this year. As of July 2021, their new name is Prothya Biosolutions. Ruud served as transition lead, supervising the integration of SPP and its Belgian sister company. ‘Our hard work has paid off,’ says Ruud. ‘There are, of course, certain cultural differences between Belgium and the Netherlands that must be accommodated. But the similarities between SPP and PIBe are far greater than their differences. Both organisations have a great deal of expertise in processing plasma into medications for clients and patients, and both are highly service-oriented and customer-focused. Their areas of expertise also complement one another nicely: PIBe is primarily focused on the initial stages of plasma processing, while SPP is more specialised in the later stages and in bringing products to market.’

Dutch self-sufficiency
In Prothya’s line of business, everything depends on the availability of plasma. ‘This year, we took steps to increase our plasma supply by forging ties with several new partners,’ says Ruud. ‘As a result, the future of Prothya Biosolutions looks very promising indeed. More and more patients are being prescribed plasma medications, partly because it is becoming easier to diagnose the types of health issues they treat, and partly because more countries are able to afford plasma products. As a result, global demand for donor plasma and plasma medications has skyrocketed. Worldwide shortages of immunoglobulin caused by the coronavirus pandemic have made painfully clear that plasma supplies are not always sufficient to keep up with demand. Prothya processes plasma collected from Dutch donors by Sanquin Blood Bank and offers it to hospitals here in the Netherlands. This unique arrangement has ensured that the Netherlands has not suffered any plasma shortages during the pandemic – a situation that we should take care to maintain.’