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Biopharming, Development of Transgenic, Plant-Based Pharmaceuticals, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

For the pharmaceuticals industry, the technology of biopharming (also referred to as “molecular farming”) may eventually lead to broad commercialization of drug therapies that are grown via agricultural methods.  For example, by inserting human genetic material into plants, scientists can manipulate them so they grow certain human proteins instead of natural plant proteins.  The growth in plants of transgenic therapies for humans may become widespread.

While biopharming is in very early stages, scientists in several nations have serious interest in this field, and some funding is beginning to emerge.  In the EU, 23 nations have agreed to cooperate to develop a strategy and an infrastructure for molecular farming.  The goal is a sustainable European biopharming community with clear frameworks for regulatory, biosafety and intellectual property issues.  A primary goal of scientists in this field is to dramatically reduce the cost of producing recombinant proteins.

An experimental drug called ZMapp (developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, California) was used to successfully treat two Ebola patients in 2014.  ZMapp is made by mixing three antibodies from tobacco plants that have been infected with genetically engineered plant viruses and then homogenizing and purifying the resulting crop.  An earlier example is a biopharmed vaccine used to treat Norwalk virus.  The vaccine was first produced from tomatoes but more recently from tobacco leaves also.


Company to Watch:  Ventria Bioscience

Sacramento, California-based Ventria Bioscience, , has received approval from the USDA every year since 1999 to produce crops for use in biopharmaceuticals.  Ventria Bioscience plants self-pollinating rice or barley specifically because they produce large quantities of proteins by nature and because they are not pollinated by wind or insect activity.  Thus, they theoretically should have no effect on nearby traditional plantings.



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