Biotech Updates

Plant Molecular Farming Promotes Accessibility, Reduced Costs of Pharmaceuticals

March 29, 2023

Plant-based pharmaceutical engineering gained the attention of medical researchers in the 21st century in light of viral outbreaks like Ebola and coronaviruses. Austrian researchers investigated the components that support this technological advancement and found that it has cost and accessibility advantages over its mammalian cell-based protein production systems counterpart.

Common engineering tools for plant-based molecular farming include nuclear expression and plastid production. However, a trend is recently emerging wherein nuclear expression is being favored due to its special features in the secretory pathway. The nuclear expression uses binary plasmids found in live organisms like Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Nicotiana benthamiana. These organisms have regions in their genes located between the right and left border sequences that form transfer DNA, which is delivered to plant cells and then expressed by the cellular machinery. This specific region can be used to insert foreign genetic elements and is a potential key tool in molecular farming.

The researchers identified factors that make molecular farming an ideal way to help curb fast-evolving diseases found today:

  • Candidate plants can be screened in a large-scale setting. Advanced technology enables screening more than 1,000 candidates per week, and allows expression results to be scaled to intact plants.
  • Large-scale screening results in a significant reduction in investment and cost of goods compared with values obtained using similar conventional production scales.
  • Plant-based manufacturing facilities are more flexible to be established in different areas and settings, unlike mammalian cell-based manufacturing facilities, which are mostly found in North America, Europe, and Asia.
  • Products of molecular farming can be administered through needle-free, aerosol application, and will require less rigorous packaging and transport, making it easier to bring to areas that are difficult to reach.

To conclude, plant-based pharmaceutical engineering fosters high-throughput screening, rapid translation at large scale, and cost-efficient production of virus-like particles that are substantially faster than animal cell-based expression systems. It has the potential to ensure rapid and global-scale deployment of pharmaceuticals making medicines more accessible to patients who need them.

For more information, read Nature.

You might also like: