Ifan Lin: From farm to pharma – the challenges of producing a botanical drug

(l to r) CK Lin, his wife Beatrice Lee, daughter Irene and son Ifan in front of one of their pineapple fields.

By Marge d’Wylde

Ifan Lin (B.S. ’06, ChemE) got a lot out of his time at UC Berkeley. Born and raised in Taiwan, Ifan and his sister (Irene) spent their junior and high school years in New Zealand. Ifan went on to UC Berkeley to do his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering where he spent time in the lab of the College’s dean Douglas Clark. He continued to Stanford for graduate studies, receiving his M.S. degree before being called home to help with the family business. 

“I planned to finish my Ph.D. at Stanford, but my father had some health issues that were interfering with a company expansion at the time. The company was preparing for the implementation of a major enzyme project which included U.S. FDA and European Union inspections. The whole facility needed to be upgraded. I eventually received my Ph.D. from National Chung Hsing University,” Ifan explains.

The company is Challenge Bioproducts Co. Ltd. (CBC) located in Taiwan. CBC is extracting Bromelain (cysteine proteases) from pineapple stems for human and animal uses.  Bromelain promotes human and animal’s health by aiding digestion and reducing inflammation, thus it is popular as a natural dietary supplement and feed additive. In the meantime, company founder and Ifan’s father CK Lin, was working with Dr. Gerold Klein in the U.S. on research looking at enzymatic debridement for a burn treatment. Enzymatic debridement has become a successful replacement for some surgical debridement procedures with excellent results. 

“The Bromelain we produce from our specific pineapple stems has a very high concentration of protease which is excellent at digesting proteins. It is also a mixture of a lot of different enzymes. Dr. Klein discovered that one of the enzymes was able to differentiate between dead and viable tissue. There are several protease extractions that have been tested including papaya and kiwi fruit. None of them have been as successful as our Bromelain since they would digest viable tissues as well as the narcotic tissue in tests,” Ifan says.

Dr. Klein wanted to join forces with CBC since he did not have a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility to handle the project. His hope was CBC would start by applying in Taiwan for regulatory approval. The company tried but the Taiwanese authorities at the time thought a botanical enzymatic drug was too novel, so they suggested CBC should seek approval in the U.S. or Europe, before filing in Taiwan. In 2000, MediWound was specifically founded for this project by Dr. Lior Rosenberg and Dr. Marian Gorecki. CBC is the Bromelain supplier for their drug NexoBrid®

NexoBrid® received its first regulatory approval in Europe in 2012 for use with burn victims. The U.S. FDA approved NexoBrid® in 2022 as the first botanical drug approved for burn treatment. “I would consider us lucky because at the time, the main jurisdiction that handled the project for Europe was the German authority. Germans are very positive about using natural ingredients and thus more favorable toward their use in pharmaceuticals. This is the opposite of the U.S. FDA, which prefers to see chemical compounds that can be duplicated exactly batch after batch. To be approved, we had to do many additional studies to prove that our product was refined enough to be consistent 

in the United States. It’s all about concerns of contamination and showing that a natural product can be as reliable as manufactured chemical ingredients.”

To date, NexoBrid® has been approved in 44 countries and has been used as a treatment for more than 11,000 patients.

Ifan and Sophia on graduation from Berkeley in 2006.

“I look back on my time at Berkeley and think about some of the experiences that I had there and how they have helped me throughout my life. I really enjoyed immersing myself in American culture. I was trying to develop my own identify beyond being a Taiwanese national from New Zealand. At Berkeley, there were a lot of free-thinking spirits. I made a lot of friends who certainly were. The internet was there, but not as popular as now, with people checking their smartphones every five minutes. I got a lot of information directly from my peers at Berkeley,” Ifan remarks.

He continues, “I was also fortunate to meet my wife Sophia Su (B.S. ’06, ChemE) who was in the chemical engineering program. We joined the AIChE Club which was great. I was the club’s webmaster. The club regularly sponsored industrial events which exposed us to different companies. Also, there were a couple of courses where the faculty invited someone from industry to talk to us about fermentation and the like. It may have been in Doug’s class.”

Ifan enjoyed Doug as a teacher and decided to do his junior research project in Doug’s lab. “I chose Doug because he seemed very kind and open-minded. I really liked his teaching style – as though he was giving a talk instead of lecturing in a classroom. He was excellent at breaking concepts down and explaining them in detail,” Ifan says. 

Douglas Clark, Ifan and his father CK at Berkeley.

Ifan continues, “I worked on an experiment in the lab with Doug’s graduate student Umar Akbar. It turned out both Umar and Doug were somewhat hands off in the lab which I wasn’t used to. But it made me realize that I needed to push myself and not wait for someone to tell me what to do next. I kept on with the experiments and asked for more if I had the time. Doug trusted his students to make the right decisions but was always there to consult with you when anything came up. It was a very good experience for me.”