Tobacco plants to fight Ebola 🌿💉👌

In 10 seconds? Molecular pharming is the production of pharmaceutical ingredients in whole plants, which can dramatically lower the cost of drugs currently produced using animal or bacterial cells.

Don’t believe it? Last year, a California-based biotech company cured two patients of Ebola infection with a vaccine they produced from tobacco plants. (see the paper)

Why plants?

1. Scalability — Greenhouses are far cheaper to build than cell culture facilities, and plants are cheaper to grow in bulk; researchers calculated that a sarin antidote is up to 98% cheaper per dose to produce in plants (tweet this)

2. Unprecedented speed to market — Plants can shorten the turnover time of a new flu vaccine from 4–6 months to <20 days (tweet this)

What’s the opportunity?

For big pharma — It took molecular pharming 25 years to produce its first
FDA-approved product, ELELYSO™, in 2012; investment in startups and spinouts in this field is starting to increase, but only cautiously

For patients — Personalised cancer vaccines can be produced in plants and released for human use in ~12 weeks (tweet this)

For the developing world — Low costs and ease of building pharming greenhouses will allow vaccine production in plants exactly where they’re needed (tweet this)

For entrepreneurs — Molecular pharming needs a killer product to prove that it can’t be replaced by other manufacturing methods; will you make it?

What non-technical factors could kill interest in this field?

Faster improvements in competing cell culture technologies that wipe out cost savings of using plants
Regulations that continue to stifle new approvals for plant-made products
Political/societal pressure against the use of genetically modified plants

Wondering what a tobacco plant looks like?

(Psst, we distilled 9 papers to save you 351.5 min)

First sent to subscribers of Sparrho Insights on 22nd February 2017

Subscribe now to be the first to receive the next weekly issue of Sparrho Insights, 3-min science briefings straight to your inbox.

No jargon, no sensationalism — just honestly interesting research explained in as few words as necessary.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.