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2-Plants: EU funds GE 'pharming' solutions to major diseases

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Research and pharmaceuticals: EU 'pharming' solutions to major
SOURCE: European Commission, Press Release
DATE:   22 Jul 2004

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Research and pharmaceuticals: EU 'pharming' solutions to major diseases

Reference: IP/04/985
Date: 22/07/2004



Brussels, 22 July 2004

Research and pharmaceuticals: EU 'pharming' solutions to major diseases

A team of European researchers plans to perfect techniques for producing
antibodies and vaccines, obtained from plants, to prevent and treat major
human diseases, such as AIDS, rabies and TB. The idea is to use
genetically modified (GM) crops eventually to produce plant-based
pharmaceuticals. Pharma-Planta is a consortium of eleven European
countries and South Africa which, thanks to EUR 12 million in EU funding,
plans to produce vaccines and other treatments for major diseases, such
as HIV/AIDS, rabies and tuberculosis. The project, led by the Fraunhofer
Institute for molecular biology and ecology in Aachen (Germany), with
scientific co-ordination by St George's Hospital Medical School in London
(UK), hopes to start clinical trials by the end of the funding period in 2009.

"The development of new drugs derived from plants, made possible thanks
to recent advances in plant genetics, can benefit from cross-disciplinary
collaboration at European level" commented Research Commissioner Philippe
Busquin about this EU project. "The consortium of 39 research teams from
across Europe and South Africa will combine expertise across disciplines,
such as immunology and plant sciences, to offer real promise in this
complex high-technology area."


Plant-based pharmaceutical production, or 'pharming', offers several
advantages over traditional approaches. The current methods used to
generate these types of treatments involve culturing cells or
microorganisms, such as bacteria which are labour intensive, expensive
and often only produce relatively small amounts of pharmaceuticals. But
plants are inexpensive to grow and if "engineered" to contain a gene for
a pharmaceutical product, they could produce large quantities of drugs or
vaccines at low cost.

First concrete applications

The first product that might come out of the EU integrated project,
possibly grown in maize, is likely to be an antibody that neutralises the
AIDS virus. This could be incorporated for example, in a simple-to-apply
microbicidal cream and used for blocking HIV transmission. Next would
probably be a monoclonal antibody against rabies - still a major killer
in the developing world and responsible for up to 70,000 deaths a year -
which could be used after contracting the virus.

Checks and balances

The production of pharmaceuticals in GM plants would be subject to
control by multiple regulatory agencies, including those governing the
use of genetically modified organisms and those governing the production
of drugs. Part of Pharma-Planta's remit will also be to identify secure
methods and places for production.

Although the consortium has yet to decide which plants to use, likely
candidates include maize, tobacco and tomatoes. Plants possessing the
desired proteins for producing so-called 'immunotherapeutic bio-
molecules' - which can be found in high enough quantities in the seeds
and harvested easily - will be given preference. For further information
on the project and a list of partner institutions please see also http:// For a recent presentation of a 2025 vision paper
'Plants for the future' for European plant biotechnology see IP/04/801.


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