GENET archive


2-Plants: Row over GE pharma plant cooperation between EU and SouthAfrica

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

TITLE:  Row over 'mutant' AIDS drug
SOURCE: Mail & Guardian, South Africa, by Lloyd Gedye
        posted by / Syngenta
DATE:   23 Jul 2004

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Row over 'mutant' AIDS drug

Johannesburg - South Africa is to become the guinea pig for the
production and testing of a controversial HIV/Aids vaccine that will be
grown in genetically modified (GM) plants.

But local environmental activists have warned they will fight the
project, for which the European Union has granted 12-million euro (about
R80-million) over five years.

The first field trial of the GM vaccine is likely to be carried out in
South Africa because there are fears that crops might be vandalised in
the United Kingdom, Britain's Independent newspaper reported this week.

The Independent said: "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 institute in question is the Centre for Scientific and Industrial
Research (CSIR) in Pretoria. The CSIR confirmed it would conduct research
on the plant vaccine to the value of ?75 000 (about R560 000) this year.

The business area manager for plant biotechnology at the CSIR, Blessed
Okole, described the initiative as a "humanitarian" project with the
"primary aim of providing medicines for poor countries".

However, local activists are not so enthralled. The coordinator of the
African Centre for Biosafety, Mariam Mayet, said that if the European
scientists believed trials in South Africa would go unopposed "they are
in for a real shock".

"Relocating such a project to South Africa because activists in Europe
will destroy their crops smacks of environmental racism. We will fight
them all the way."

Muffy Koch, a biosafety expert advising the government on the safety of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs), said that for the first time this
year GMO trials were being conducted in secret in South Africa , because
local activists had made subtle threats about "night harvesting".

The CSIR does not require government approval to take part in the
project, but has applied for additional funding from the Department of
Science and Technology.

The department provided financial support for a visit last year by
Professor Paul Christou, a leading member of the Pharma-Planta
consortium, to explore European collaboration with South Africa.

"The CSIR's primary role and tasks relate to the genetic transformation
of maize and tobacco with the experimental vaccines -- and growing the
transgenic plants in a contained environment to produce seeds that will
be used for downstream processing," said Okole.

European scientists expect to start human trials on the vaccine in the
next five years. The technology, called "biopharming", involves the
genetic engineering of plants to produce pharmaceutical proteins and
chemicals that they do not produce naturally.

The Pharma-Planta consortium will develop the concept from plant
modification through to clinical trials with the aim of producing
vaccines and remedies for major diseases including Aids, rabies, diabetes
and tuberculosis.

Biosafety coordinator Philip Dale, of the John Innes Centre in Norwich,
England, said several different production systems were under
consideration, including the use of maize and tobacco. A final decision
on the plant host would not be made until a year into the project.

"We will also carefully consider where to base the production sites. We
already have a number of sites in mind, both in Europe and South Africa,"
Dale said.

The GM crops are to have their genes spliced with genetic material from
disease-causing viruses and bacteria to make prototype vaccines. By
purifying the proteins, known as antigens, from the harvested crop
scientists hope to mass produce vaccines at a fraction of the current cost.

The project's scientific coordinator, Julian Ma, of St George's Hospital
Medical School in London, said it would take about two years to develop
the technique before the first crop was grown in 2006.

The administrative coordinator, Professor Rainer Fischer, added: "There
is a desperate need to find ways to produce modern medicines in
sufficient quantities and at a cost that will make them available to
everyone. We believe using plants to make pharmaceuticals could make a
significant contribution."

Ma said, "The cost of developing plant-derived products could be 10 to
100 times lower than conventional production."

Andrew Tanyton, spokesperson for the Safe Food Coalition, a bitter
opponent of GMOs in South Africa, dismissed claims that a desire to
reduce costs lay behind the use of plants to produce vaccines.

"These medicines will be patented. When they come on the market there
will be no competition, so prices will be as high. There will be no
benefits for the consumer," he said.

"You don't need to create GM crops; you can develop medicines using GM
technology by modifying bacteria in laboratories. There is no need to
release these crops into the environment."

Taynton added that GM crops have been rejected in Europe. "To keep the
biotechnology industry afloat they are targeting countries with very lax
biotechnology legislation."

A major cause for concern over the new technology is the fact that a
United States company, Epicyte, holds a key patent on the production of
antibodies in plants. "Any benefits must genuinely reach those that need
them, rather than simply lining the pockets of the biotech and
pharmaceutical industry," said Clare Oxborrow, a GM campaigner for
Friends of the Earth.

"We believe food crops should not be used to grow these vaccines because
of the risk of contamination. Food crops in the US have already been
destroyed because of contamination by experimental 'pharm' crops,"
Oxborrow said.

Okole said the executive council of the GMO Act would have to be
convinced that there are no health or environmental risks, and that the
trials will be managed to prevent any unforeseen loss of material.

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

TITLE:  EU helps boost SA's Aids-research effort
SOURCE: South African Press Agency / Engineering News, South Africa
DATE:   27 Jul 2004 

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EU helps boost SA's Aids-research effort

A European Union body will donate about R4.2 billion to the South African
Medical Research Council to help combat HIV/Aids, the MRC said on Monday.

"This is the initial amount. Out of those (donated) amounts, we will
conduct trials and others things," MRC spokesman Julian Jacobs said.

He said further details about the funding would be disclosed at a press
conference in Cape Town at 12.30pm, where Cabinet ministers and project
leaders would speak.

The African offices of the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials
Partnership (ECDTP), the body donating the funds, would be officially
opened at that press briefing.

Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena, Health Minister Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang, EDCTP leaders and William Pick, the acting president
of the MRC, were expected to attend.

Mangena said the EDCTP was a "strategic response to the call for
comprehensive funding" to deal with HIV, Aids and other communicable diseases.

"The need to deal vigorously with these diseases was highlighted at the
recent International Aids Conference in Bangkok," he said in a speech
prepared for delivery at the launch.

"There is no doubt that this funding initiative to support the
implementation of the EDCTP by the European Commission and member states
will provide a significant financial impetus for the fight against
poverty and disease."

Mangena said the "immense gesture" of the European Union and developing
countries should be supplemented with other partnerships between
governments, especially the pharmaceutical industry and the private sector.

"South Africa will thus maximise synergies between our national
programmes such as the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative funded by
our government, and the operations of the EDCTP.

"Such an alignment will ensure the leveraging of optimal returns on our
collective investments," he said


EDCTP activities under the 5th framework programme

EDCTP activities under the 6th framework programme


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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