We have till date heard about antibodies but now plant-based ‘plantibodies’ are grabbing attention in the biotech world.
According to the health experts, biotech drug production techniques which are based on plants can prove to be faster and higher yielding and even cheaper than the current using mammalian cells.
San Diego’s Mapp Pharmaceutical has recently grabbed the headlines for an experimental Ebola drug which was given to two American health workers diagnosed with the disease.
Companies like Canada’s PlantForm Corp, Germany’s Icon Genetics and Delaware-based IBio Inc. all are known for the same reason.
The privately-held companies, meanwhile, working on producing antibodies, vaccines and protein drugs in fast-growing plants. These companies hope that these low cost plant-based productions may eventually grab attention of larger drugmakers. Larger pharmaceutical makers have yet to accept the method after spending millions of dollars on their current manufacturing lines.
Victor Klimyuk, Chief Operating Officer at Icon Genetics, said, “I think the interest will come. It is typical that the Big Pharma industry is very conservative in what they establish and what they invest in.”
The antibodies are proteins that the immune system uses to block the path of foreign invaders that potentially damaging for our body. Around 30 antibody-based drugs are available in the American market. Some of these drugs include Avastin and Rituxan, both from Roche Holding AG.
All these drugs are produced from mammalian cells which are cultivated in large stainless steel vats.
Referring to mammalian cell cultivation, Michael Kamarck said, “The technology in use now is very established and extremely efficient. The big firms have adopted those systems and made investments. But if you are a small biotech with a great idea, it might make sense to use the tobacco plant to quickly produce antibodies for testing.”
Kamarck, a biotechnology industry consultant, was the former manufacturing executive at Merck & Co Inc.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds some exception about the plantibodies and has signalled some of its concerns over them. The federal agency also expresses need for manufacturers to show that the source plant produces a consistent product and never turns up dangerous for the mankind.
The FDA had also cited its concern in draft guidance from 2002. It says potential for the plant to exhibit a toxic or allergenic compound and the need for ensuring that plant propagation is contained.
The executives and officials who are deeply involved in plantibodies say that their work has come a long way where the production has become quite viable.
PlantForm CEO Don Stewart said, “Fifteen years ago there were a number of companies involved, but none were particularly successful. Yields were not that impressive and time lines to development were quite long. But now scenario has changed.”
They could do wonders in treating fatal disease like Ebola in both poor and developing countries.