GENET archive


2-Plants: ProdiGene abandons efforts to grow genetically alteredcorn in Texas (USA)

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

TITLE:  Firm abandons efforts to grow genetically altered corn in Frio
        County, Texas
SOURCE: San Antonio Express, USA
DATE:   8 Sep 2004 

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Firm abandons efforts to grow genetically altered corn in Frio County, Texas

Sep. 8--After seeking permits to plant genetically engineered
pharmaceutical corn in Frio County, the College Station-based company
ProdiGene abandoned its efforts. ProdiGene was seeking permits to plant
up to several hundred acres of corn that have been altered to produce
animal proteins used in medicine. The company chose Frio County in part
because it is not a major corn-producing county, lessening the chances
its modified corn would cross-pollinate with conventional corn, according
to information it provided to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service. But the APHIS Web site last week
listed the two Frio County permit applications as withdrawn, and a third
that was approved will not be executed. ProdiGene Chief Executive Officer
John Reiher did not return phone calls seeking comment. The Sierra Club
submitted a letter to the USDA opposing the project, and the Organic
Consumers Association posted the letter on its Web site. Problems with
the project include incomplete scientific reviews and insufficient public
notice in Frio County, said Neil Carman, vice chairman of the Sierra
Club's genetic engineering committee. "There's some major issues about
the regulatory process," Carman said, adding that much more stringent
monitoring is called for because "gene-splicing itself is inherently
risky." The environmental assessment did not reveal the location but said
it was three to four miles south of the Frio River and surrounded by open
ranchland and some vegetable farming. It stated that no other corn was
grown commercially within at least a mile around the site.

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

TITLE:  Researcher eyeing tobacco for factory of biopharmaceuticals
SOURCE: Virginia Tech, USA, Karen Gilbert
DATE:   13 Aug 2004 

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Researcher eyeing tobacco for factory of biopharmaceuticals

Blacksburg, Va., August 13, 2004 -- The economics of producing
biopharmaceuticals from transgenic plants such as tobacco is still a
roadblock to producing large quantities of urgently needed medicines,
especially for people in underdeveloped nations.

Chenming "Mike" Zhang is testing a variety of ways to economically
recover recombinant proteins from transgenic tobacco using different
protein separation techniques.

Zhang, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems
Engineering (BSE) in the College of Engineering and the College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, is working with a team of
three Ph.D. students to develop transgenic tobacco plants able to express
recombinant proteins economically. Recombinant proteins are potential
therapeutic agents for treating human and animal diseases and creating
new vaccines. Plant-made vaccines are especially beneficial because
plants are free of human diseases, reducing the cost to screen for
viruses and bacterial toxins.

"Recombinant protein production from transgenic plants is challenging,
not just from the molecular biology aspect to have high expression plant
lines, but also from the engineering aspect to recover and purify the
proteins economically -- the importance of which cannot be overlooked,"
Zhang said.

Recombinant proteins are proteins expressed by a host other than their
native hosts. For example, if the gene for human growth hormone is
inserted into the genetic code of yeast (gene recombination), then the
corresponding protein expressed in the yeast is called recombinant human
growth hormone.

Zhang's research starts with introducing the genes of interest into
tobacco plants and then developing economical processes for recovering
and purifying the expressed proteins. Relaxin, one of the proteins his
team is studying, could potentially benefit patients with asthma, hay
fever, and even cardiovascular disease.

Because most recombinant proteins are for therapeutic uses, they need to
be highly purified to be safe for human use. Thus, once a protein is
expressed, whether by transgenic tobacco or bacteria, the protein first
needs to be recovered into liquid solutions before purification.

"Because of the high purity required, the purification is rigorous and
not surprisingly, very expensive. Therefore, development of more
economical techniques for protein purification is always an engineering
challenge in order to lower the cost of therapeutic proteins or
biopharmaceuticals," Zhang said.

Zhang uses tobacco in his research because it is a non-food crop and is
well suited as a "factory" for recombinant protein production. The leafy
green tobacco plant is relatively easy to alter genetically and produces
thousands of seeds and a great deal of biomass. As a non-food crop,
genetically manipulated tobacco will not pose a safety threat to products
consumed by humans. "Since tobacco is neither a food nor a feed-crop,
transgenic tobacco will not enter our food," Zhang said.

The research is funded by Jeffress Memorial Trust and the Tobacco Initiative.

Zhang is the director of both the Protein Separation Laboratory and the
Unit Operations Laboratory at Virginia Tech. The Protein Separation
Laboratory supports research in protein expression and purification
process development from transgenic plants and other expression systems.
The Unit Operations Laboratory supports a course by the same name taught
by Zhang in biological systems engineering. He also is affiliated with
the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering
and Sciences.

The College of Engineering Dean's Award for Outstanding Assistant
Professor was presented to Zhang in 2004. His nomination was based on his
extraordinary level of activities and accomplishments in curriculum
development and teaching, development of a viable research program, and
his cooperative efforts with colleagues at Virginia Tech and around the

Before coming to Virginia Tech in 2001, Zhang was a research and
development scientist for two years at Covance Biotechnology Services
(now Diosynth RTP) in Cary, N.C.

Zhang received his bachelor's and master's degrees in metallurgical
physical chemistry from the University of Science and Technology in
Beijing, China, in 1986 and 1991, respectively. He received a second
master's degree in physical and analytical chemistry in 1996 from Iowa
State University as well as his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1999.

Consistently ranked by the National Science Foundation among the top 10
institutions in agricultural research, Virginia Tech's College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences offers students the opportunity to learn
from some of the world's leading agricultural scientists. The college's
comprehensive curriculum gives students a balanced education that ranges
from food and fiber production to economics to human health. The college
is a national leader in incorporating technology, biotechnology, computer
applications, and other recent scientific advances into its teaching program.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized
for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science.
The college's 5,600 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum
that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education,
complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build
facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50
research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000
graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as
biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to
become among the largest universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Today, Virginia Tech's eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge
to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to
fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the
nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other
campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads,
Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and
part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more
than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.

Learn more about Zhang at

                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Plant-made pharmaceuticals might grow on Wall Street
SOURCE: BioPharm International, USA, by Brian O'Connell
DATE:   1 Aug 2004 

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Plant-made pharmaceuticals might grow on Wall Street.

Companies that create new products often discover that the largest market
for said products was not the market the "experts" thought it would be.

Brian O'Connell

Take Alfred Nobel. When the fabled scientist was in the process of
developing dynamite, he was trying to discover a better explosive device
for the US military. As it turned out, dynamite proved to be too
explosive for even the armed forces. The big guns in Washington decided
that dynamite was too unpredictable and too dangerous for soldiers to be
carting around.

Chagrined, Nobel wasn't sure where to turn when representatives from the
mining, railroad, and construction industries contacted him. Waving
checkbooks at Nobel, it was clear that they immediately saw the
productivity potential for dynamite in their respective fields of work.
Hello, rock-busting explosive device. Good-bye, pick and shovel.

So it goes with the biopharmaceutical industry and one of its promising,
if nascent, technologies -- plant-made pharmaceuticals (PMPs).


What are PMPs, and why should Wall Street types get to know them?
According to a white paper on the topic released by BIO, PMPs use
biotechnology-fueled plants to produce uber-proteins that might be used
by doctors to battle life-threatening illnesses. According to the BIO
paper, "in this process, plants themselves become 'factories' that
manufacture therapeutic proteins. These proteins are then extracted,
refined and used in pharmaceutical production."

A USD 20 billion market, PMP tools and technologies are very much a work
in progress, with most projects in either the field trial or clinical
trial stages, according to SeedWorld magazine, which covers the latest
advances in plant breeding and development, biotechnology, marketing,
testing, and international trade. According to BIO, the United States
Department of Agriculture reports that only 20 permits were issued to
conduct PMP trials in 2002, and only nine more in 2003. To date, only a
handful of farming-friendly states (Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa,
Texas, and Nebraska among them) have been issued permits to conduct PMP
trials by the USDA. According to BIO, "it is estimated that it will be at
least three to five years before full commercialization of the first PMP
is reached. Plant-made pharmaceuticals are strictly regulated by United
States regulatory agencies and differ from traditional commodity
agriculture on many fronts."

I won't bore you with my limited knowledge of the scientific side of PMPs
-- in other words, how PMPS are produced, what kinds of plants are used,
and the ins and outs of the harvesting process (there's more than enough
good information on that elsewhere in this issue of BioPharm
International). Suffice it to say that the idea of pharmaceutical plants
becoming quasi agri-factories where therapeutic proteins can be produced
faster, easier, and cheaper has a great deal of potential to investors.


Contrast the potential of PMPs with conventional production methods, and
you begin to see why the technology could save substantial amounts of
time and money, enable easily scaleable production, and produce complex
proteins that current systems cannot produce. What also interests me --
and hopefully the readers of this column -- is the kinds of diseases that
potentially can be treated with the technology. After all, it's the
"trigger effect" of treating such diseases that will demonstrate the
technology's potential to generate fat profits and reward shareholders
that pour money into a technology that may or may not pay off.

So far, a growing number of industry heavy-hitters have lined up to take
a swing at PMPs. ProdiGene, in partnership with NIH, is working on a
corn-based treatment for travelers' disease. Large Scale Biology
Corporation is doing the same with tobacco-based products in an effort to
fight non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Meristem Therapeutics also is using corn to
research ways to successfully battle cystic fibrosis. Ventria Bioscience
is analyzing how rice can help treat iron deficiency and even diarrhea.

Okay, so using plants to treat diseases isn't exactly a bombshell (even
though Wall Street types like to bet on bombshells). Years ago, European,
Egyptian, and Far Eastern doctors were crunching up plants to make
medicines like aspirin and quinine. Unfortunately, aspirin and quinine
don't cut it anymore.

 PMPs are changing the biopharmaceutical industry by knocking down
production costs and speeding time-to-market. New agricultural
technologies, the renewable nature of plants, and increasingly
sophisticated plant-processing techniques allow PMPs to be grown and
nurtured in vast abundance for R&D. The time and money saved on plant
production allows further R&D investment, giving consumers a faster
turnaround on viable medical treatments -- and investors a bigger bang for
their buck.


Kent Iverson, a biopharmaceutical industry consultant, cites Immunex and
its Embrel arthritis drug as a good example of a firm that could have
leveraged the power of PMPs to bring products to market faster and
cheaper. Immunex faced continued shortages of the popular drug after it
was released in 1998. The problem? The drug was manufactured in huge
10,000-liter tanks that were extremely expensive to build and maintain.
"Immunex didn't have the money to build a large enough scale facility to
manufacture Enbrel in large enough quantities. This is where transgenic
plants could have a huge advantage. If Enbrel were produced in corn, they
could have just planted more acres, which would have been much less
expensive than building new, larger facilities," Iverson said.

Hence Wall Street investors' attraction to a technology that promises to
cut drug production costs and speed up delivery times. After all, PMPs
solve a vexing problem for the drug industry: Since most
biopharmaceutical companies cannot afford to risk a USD 500 million
investment in an R&D facility for a drug that may or may not be green
lighted by Uncle Sam, why not use relatively inexpensive plants to fuel
protein research and save drug companies tens of millions of dollars in
the process? If PMPs can follow through on their promise to use plants to
make drugs available faster and in larger volume than ever before, who
wouldn't want to bet a shekel or two on their commercial viability?

Like any other financial venture, investing in PMPs requires both the
patience of a saint and the ability to absorb some bad news and still
hang in there. "The agriculture biotech industry and investors must
understand that product commercialization costs associated with bringing
new materials or medicine to market are extreme, ranking biotechnology
capital requirements among the highest of any sector in the United
States," Tom Steen, managing partner for the Des Moines, Iowa-based Cybus
Capital Markets, wrote in a recent analytical report on the topic. "The
investor who is placing capital in this sector needs patience and
sufficient knowledge of the core biotechnology to understand the
regulatory and development hurdles unique to this industry."

Like Nobel's experiment with dynamite, there's no sure footing on PMPs.
Few seem exactly sure where the trail will lead. But if you like a mix of
promising technologies and ground-floor stock market opportunities,
plant-made pharmaceuticals might just be your field of dreams.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
E: coordination(*)
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