August 3, 2005

Got breast milk? Calif. firm seeks milk therapies

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Breast has long been best when it
comes to feeding babies but a California company this week
launched the first known venture to commercialize human donor
breast milk and develop its use for sick children.

"Human milk has 100,000 different components and we only
really know what a few thousand of them are and what they do,"
Elena Medo, CEO of Prolacta Bioscience, said on Wednesday.

"It is an enormous area of discovery. I am sure there is a
reason for every one of those components, and I'd like to know
half of that in my lifetime," Medo said.

Human breast milk, with its combination of minerals,
digestive enzymes and antibodies, has long been credited with
keeping babies healthier and boosting their intelligence.

But until now breast milk donation has largely been
confined to altruistic mothers and a handful of nonprofit milk
banks that collect milk on a local basis and provide it to
premature and sick infants whose mothers cannot nurse their
newborns themselves.

Prolacta Bioscience has opened what it bills as the first
large-scale centralized facility for processing donor breast
milk in the United States.

The small start-up company in Monrovia, 15 miles west of
Los Angeles, is also thought to be the first with a mission to
maximize the properties of human milk for pharmaceutical use.

"To our knowledge, this is the first and only facility of
its kind in the world," said Medo.

Prolacta will first use its facility to buy donated breast
milk from independent milk banks and hospitals across the
United States, pasteurize it at its Monrovia plants and sell it
back to hospitals to treat very-low-birth-weight babies.


Its next market will be babies with heart defects who need
surgery and are at risk for infection, and then children with
cancer and those undergoing chemotherapy who suffer very upset

Medo also hopes to develop human-milk-based therapies to
treat necrotizing enterocolitis, a gastrointestinal disease
that is one of the leading killers of premature babies.

Some studies have suggested that human breast milk could be
beneficial in the treatment of some cancers, notably prostate
cancer, but Medo said Prolacta would not pursue the adult

Prolacta's mission has disturbed traditional breast milk
donor organizations in the United States, which have been
providing neonatal-intensive care units since 1943.

The nonprofit Human Milk Banking Association of North
America said in a statement that "it does not condone, and in
fact, questions the practice of buying and selling human milk
as a commodity."

It said introducing the profit motive might pressure women
and medical institutions to provide milk to a bank regardless
of the needs of their own babies.

Medo said Prolacta had no wish to compete with existing
milk banks and said its products were not intended to replace a
mother's own milk for her baby.

"Human breast milk is really an incredible therapy. Let's
try to develop processes where we can preserve every bit of its
nutrients and the potent antiviral and all of its disease
fighting properties," Medo said.