Experts prep drug operations for move to farm

It's not enough that consumer electronics giants are buying their way into the biopharma space. Pharma is also facing a stealth bio threat.

The European Union is funding scientists to build a plant-based production platform for pharmaceuticals. The Pharma-Planta consortium of academia and industry in Europe and South Africa aims to squeeze drugs out of corn. Separately, a drug production effort in the U.S. targets tobacco as the platform.

Though the seed genomics work is tricky, it should give rise to low-tech and transferrable drug production, say scientists. If so, then the follow-on challenge will be creation of good manufacturing practices that ensure safe and repeatable results from farm to clinic.

On an experimental level, the EU corn platform has produced antibodies against HIV that might be able to block transmission of the virus. Researchers hope that a corn seed paste formulated with gel could become a topical microbicide prophylactic.

At Arizona State University, the focus is harnessing the genetic expression capability of tobacco plants to produce antibodies that inactivate sexually transmitted viruses at the time of infection. Researchers believe they are three years away from clinical testing.

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