Molecular farmers to test a low-cost antibody produced in tobacco

Reuters' Ben Hirschler takes an in-depth look at the prospects for using molecular farming methods to create relatively low-cost biologics as European researchers set out to prove that an anti-HIV drug can be produced in genetically engineered tobacco leaves. If the antibody can be successfully tested in 11 women recruited for a Phase I study, P2G12 will be used to develop a microbicide and tested in a mid-stage study as protection against the spread of the HIV virus.

The project marks a key turning point for the EU's 7-year-old Pharma-Planta project. U.K. investigator Julian Ma tells Hirschler that the new study provides a clear endorsement of the potential for molecular farmers to raise a crop of complex treatments at a much lower cost than manufacturers face using living cells.

"This opens the potential for plants to manufacture a range of drugs in the developed, and the developing, world," Ma tells Reuters.

To be sure, genetically modified crops have raised a storm of protest in Europe, but researchers expect to avoid the controversy by raising all its tobacco in greenhouses. Protalix and Pfizer have set out to prove that they can produce a new Gaucher's disease treatment in carrot cells, advancing the molecular farming approach to protein treatments. But the FDA has delayed the company's application, looking for additional data.

- here's the story from Reuters