Collplant's Vergenix
Collplant's VergenixIsrael News Photo: PR

Believe it or not, tobacco has a healthy side – one that was discovered and developed by Israeli company Collplant, which uses the plant known for its complicity in cigarette-related lung cancer deaths to grow and harvest human collagen. Collagen, of course, is the material generated by the human body to help with healing wounds, repairing bones, regenerating nerves, fixing tendons and ligaments – and dozens of other health and healing applications.

And Collplant, currently the only company in the world generating collagen for use in the body from non-animal sources, is set to test its new Vergenix collagen application in two health clinics belonging to the Maccabee Health Fund. The objective: To determine the effectiveness of Vergenix in repairing chronic wounds among diabetics, a major problem for those suffering from the disease.

Collagen production is usually very low among diabetics and other chronically ill individuals, and many of them suffer from sores, wounds, and other skin problems that never seem to heal. Often, wounds can remain open for years – increasing discomfort and, of course, hiking the risk of infection. Collplant believes that Vergenix will be able to help resolve this problem, supplying patients with enough human collagen to repair those wounds. If successful – and prior studies and research by Collplant give every indication that it will be – the Maccabee study will help pave the way for approval of Vergenix and other tobacco-produced collagen treatments from Collplant by authorities in the U.S. and Europe. According to the company, the market for collagen products is in excess of $5 billion annually.

Collagen plays a major role in the body's connective tissue, and is the most abundant protein in mammals, found in fibrous tissues such as tendons, ligaments and skin. It's also abundant in cornea, cartilage, bone, blood vessels, the gut, and intervertebral discs, and is used in plastic surgery, wound and burn healing, tissue regeneration, orthopedics – even heart surgery. Patients in the study will have a Vergenix-treated bandage applied to their wounds, which they will wear for about two weeks. After that, staff will examine the wounds, checking for progress and checking the body's reaction to the treatment.

Most of the artificial human collagen in use today is produced from the remains of cows and pigs – always a risky venture, because you never know if germs or bacteria will come along “for the ride” in the collagen administered to patients. After much experimentation, Collplant determined that tobacco plants were ideal for raising human collagen, which is genetically added to the plants. The collagen doesn't interfere with the plant's growth or development, and since it is not part of the seed or food chain, the likelihood of the collagen's getting infected is extremely low.

According to Collplant CEO Yechiel Tal, “Vergenix is the first of the company's products to be tested in clinical conditions in order to prove that it is safe and effective for treatment of wounds suffered by diabetes patients. The information we learn in this study will help us with the regulatory process and will also help us acquire approval for other human collagen products produced through recombinant genetics. We are happy to be cooperating with Maccabee Health Services and are positive that the study will be a success.”