GENET archive


2-Plants: EU funds GE pharma plants - and field trials in SouthAfrica

COMMENT by GeneWatch, UK

Yesterday we saw the launch of 'Pharma-Planta' a big EU funded project
which is entirely European except for one partner in South Africa:
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Pretoria, South Africa

This is an academic driven project making lots of claims about cheap
preventive medications for HIV, diabetes etc. See http://www.pharma-

From speaking to journalists at their press conference this am, it is
quite clear that they anticipate using South Africa as a testing place
for their GM crops. I thought you might like to follow up and find out
terms etc!

GeneWatch has a report on pharma crops on its web site

We should keep in touch on this.

Best regards
Sue Mayer

Visit the GeneWatch UK web site at:



Recently we've noted the weak biosafety system in South Africa and the
extent to which, starting back in the apartheid era, South Africa's
regulatory system has been shaped by industry-backed lobbyists.

A recent court case has also highlighted the extraordinary secrecy
surrounding GM crops releases in South Africa with officals accused of
repeatedly failing to release information to which the public has a
statutory right.

Yesterday saw the launch of 'Pharma-Planta' a big EU funded project whih
is entirely European except for one partner - the Council for Scientific
and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria, South Africa.

It is beoming clear that the Europeans plan to use South Africa as the
testing ground for their GM pharma crops. To quote from the article below:
"concerns about direct action by environmentalists opposed to GM crops
has led to the scientists behind the project collaborating with a South
African research institute that has offered to grow the first crop."
"Philip Dale, a plant technologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich
and the project's biosafety co-ordinator, said the cost of 24-hour
surveillance of GM fields in the UK has made it expensive to conduct
similar trials in Britain."

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  EU funding for GM plant vaccines
SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation, by Jonathan Amos
DATE:   12 Jul 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

EU funding for GM plant vaccines

European scientists have launched a project to make pharmaceutically
useful products in genetically modified crops.

The consortium, called Pharma-Planta, wants to produce vaccines and other
treatments for major diseases, such as HIV/Aids, rabies and TB. The EU
has put 12 million euros (8m) into the project, which hopes to start
clinical trials by 2009. The first product, possibly grown in maize, is
likely to be an antibody that can be used to block HIV transmission. It
would be incorporated into a microbicidal cream that could be used in the
vagina. The second product will probably to be a post-bite vaccine for
rabies, which is still a significant killer in Africa and southeast Asia.
The viral disease is responsible for 40-70,000 deaths per year, mostly in

Higher returns

The project's aim is to focus on areas that will be of greatest benefit
to developing nations - and any plant "platforms" that are found to work
particularly well will be freely licensed in those countries. Cultivation
of the GM plants and the processing necessary to remove the useful
molecules from the plant tissues would all be done locally. "We are
addressing what we consider to be serious issue of global inequity of
health," said Professor Julian Ma, from St George's Hospital Medical
School, London, UK, who is Pharma-Planta's scientific coordinator.

"The major burden of disease is in developing nations where access to
many vaccines is very poor." The EU Framework 6 project is led by
academia - not industry. Thirty-nine labs in 11 European countries will
work together, with input from researchers in South Africa, where HIV/
Aids is a major public health issue. Similar projects are underway in
other parts of the world. One such approach is already being used
successfully in Cuba to create human proteins in tobacco plants which
allow the purification of Hepatitis B vaccine.

But in general, many commercial companies have withdrawn from vaccine
development and production because of what are regarded as low economic
returns. Pharma-Planta hopes the technology it will develop over the
course of its initial five years of funding will eventually boost the
global supply of treatments.

Public attitudes

"Plants are inexpensive to grow, and if we were to engineer them to
contain a gene for a pharmaceutical product, they could produce large
quantities of drugs or vaccines at low cost," Professor Ma said. "The
current methods used to generate these types of treatments include
genetic modification of human cells and microorganisms such as bacteria.
These techniques are labour intensive, expensive and often only produce
relatively small amounts of pharmaceuticals." He said it was difficult to
make comparisons but the costs of developing plant-derived products could
be 10-100-times lower than conventional production.

The production of GM crops for food consumption has been viewed with deep
suspicion in Europe, but the scientists hope the public will view this
project differently. "I was involved in the GM debate in the UK - I was
on the steering board. And one interesting observation from that was that
there was support for medicinal uses of GM plants, especially for
applications in developing countries," said Pharma-Planta's biosafety co-
ordinator, Professor Philip Dale, from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK.

'Closed' systems

The project has yet to decide which plants to use but candidates could
include tobacco, maize, potatoes and tomatoes. The preference would be to
go with plants in which the desired protein products are expressed in
high quantities in the seeds, which are easily harvestable. "The plants
would be grown in pharmaceutical production units on dedicated land,
isolated from food crops," said Professor Dale. "They would be
genetically isolated, too - new male sterile lines that don't produce
pollen. The crops would be harvested using dedicated equipment - combine
harvesters and storage. Even the initial phases of the processing would
be done on site." Professors Dale and Ma thought it unlikely, though not
impossible, that the "pharming" would be done in the UK.

Anti-GM group Friends Of The Earth said the project's aims were laudable
but warned its research could have widespread negative impacts. "Food
crops in the United States have already been destroyed because of
contamination by experimental 'pharm' crops," said campaigner Clare
Oxborrow. "A clear set of criteria must be established to ensure that
human health and the environment are protected. Any benefits must
genuinely reach those that need them, rather than simply lining the
pockets of the biotech and pharmaceutical industry."

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GM plants will be used to create Aids vaccine
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Steve Connor
DATE:   13 Jul 2004

------------------- archive: -------------------

GM plants will be used to create Aids vaccine

Genetically modified plants are to be used to grow vaccines against
rabies and Aids, scientists have announced.

Europe's first field trial, announced yesterday, is likely to be carried
out in South Africa because of fears over crop vandalism in Britain.

The GM crop could dramatically reduce the cost of producing vaccines _
scientists estimate they can be made at between a tenth and a hundredth
of the price of conventional immunisations.

Dubbed "pharming" by its opponents, this is the latest step in technology
which allows medicines to be grown in plants. Although this project is
concerned with injectable vaccines, other trials under consideration
involve extending the research to oral vaccines which might be grown in
edible raw food such as bananas.

Concerns about direct action by environmentalists opposed to GM crops has
led scientists behind the project to collaborate with a South African
research institute which has offered to grow the first crop there.

The EU has awarded EUR 12m (GBP 8.6m) to a pan-European consortium of
scientists who aim to develop the technology for growing GM plants that
can be turned into vaccines against a range of common diseases in the
developing world.

Professor Julian Ma of St George's Hospital Medical School in London, the
scientific co-ordinator of the project, said that it will take about two
years to develop the technique before the first crop is scheduled to be
grown in 2006.

Clinical trials of the first vaccine derived from GM plants are planned
to take place in 2009.

"Plants are inexpensive to grow and if we were to engineer them to
contain a gene for a pharmaceutical product they could produce large
quantities of drugs or vaccine at low cost," Professor Ma said.

"The current methods used to generate these types of treatments are
labour intensive, expensive and often only produce relatively small
amounts of pharmaceuticals," he said.

It is likely the first pharmaceuticals crop will be GM maize or GM
tobacco that will be engineered with a set of genes for making prototype
vaccines against either HIV or rabies. By purifying the proteins from the
harvested crop scientists hope to mass-produce vaccines at a fraction of
the current cost.

South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is
participating in the research and is particularly interested in potential
vaccines against HIV, the Aids virus.

The Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: "Growing
medicines in plants has serious implications for human health and the
environment. We recognise the need for affordable medicines to be made
available to people with life-threatening illnesses but this research
could have widespread negative impacts."

Professor Ma said that 3.3 million people a year die from preventable
diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria, yet there is not the
industrial capacity or funds to produce enough vaccines for everyone.
"The cost of doing nothing is measured in millions of people who will die
from preventable diseases," he said.


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