“Have you heard about Plant Molecular Farming?”
Since July, we have been reaching out to various relevant industry stakeholders specifically to talk about using plants to produce medicines.
While we all “know” that some medicines have their origin in plants, we forget about it in our day to day, in fact, to quote Lucy Jones (author of Losing Eden, The Nature Seed), we suffer from “plant blindness”.
Not many of the industry stakeholders interviewed had in mind that > 60 companies and research teams are working in these themes and that over 30 clinical trials for biotherapeutics produced in plants have been conducted. Very few of the stakeholders realised that various plant-made protein reagents are commercially available and that plant-made vaccines (one for COVID, two for veterinary use) and other biotherapeutic proteins made in plants have gained regulatory approval. (find out more here)
Here follows a summary of what we found out so far. We will be continuing the discussions and would like to hear your contribution.
- A technique for producing proteins in plants transiently is widely used in plant research laboratories, as it is considered a reliable and fast means to generate research proteins.
- Accessing plants’ complex chemistry for nutrition and medical purposes is of high interest and a big challenge. The approaches being tested include a) engineering relevant metabolic pathways in microbes to enable fermentation of these compounds, b) using plant cell culture techniques and, albeit at an earlier stage, c) engineering the metabolic pathways in planta (see our blog “Plants are Nature’s alchemists”).
- “The right product for the platform” – there needs to be a rationale for using the plant production system. The lack of a well-trodden regulatory path is perceived as a risk and tends to be mitigated by switching to use of more standard production systems, when products advance in/to clinic.
- The technology for manipulating protein production in plants has broad capability and is adapted to novel industry needs – plants are being used to produce animal-free cell growth factors and biomaterials for medical use, and to produce nanoparticles for diagnostic, prophylactic and therapeutic applications.
- “The right platform for the right context” – in low and medium income countries/environments, plant production of biopharmaceuticals may be one means of launching local medical manufacturing capability and providing access to medicine – see here for information about the relevant section at the Science Summit at UNGA77 last September.
- Within the Plant Molecular Farming ecosystem, more resources are being allocated specifically to stakeholder engagement activities and novel methods to support co-creating and dialogue through interviews, co-design tools and public participation workshops (see here)
We would like to thank all for their time and for sharing their thoughts with us.