PlantForm develops biosimilar trastuzumab in tobacco plants

February 1, 2013 11:01 AM

PlantForm Corporation is a Canadian company formed in 2008 to commercialize a plant-based manufacturing platform for low-cost monoclonal antibodies, protein drugs and vaccines for cancer and other critical illnesses.

The company makes antibody drugs from tobacco plants, and has licensed its technology from the University of Guelph, Ontario where it was developed by Dr. J. Christopher Hall, the Canada Research Chair in Recombinant Antibody Technology.

They’ve altered tobacco plants to re-create a biosimilar version of trastuzumab, the blockbuster cancer therapy drug Herceptin. The company’s founder and the chief scientific officer, Dr. Hall, says the new product “is nearly identical to the drug Herceptin, except for a few sugars that might be slightly different. But its efficacy – in other words, how it works, etc. – is the same.”

While developing biological drugs, companies usually use bioreactors – such as manufactured vessels that aid in the growth of bacteria and yeast – to create antibodies, drugs, and vaccines. But PlantForm uses tobacco plants as bioreactors, by genetically re-engineering the plant to include the gene that makes the antibody. And these plants just require your usual water and sunlight to grow.

The traditional way of creating Herceptin is in animal cells, which is complicated and expensive. Tobacco plants, on the other hand, grow quickly and their biology is well-known by scientists. Humans and tobacco plants also have the same cell system.

Against all the optimism (including price advantages during development stage), experts state that there is a long way to go for the new antibody. Dr. Christine Brezden-Masley of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto says, “They still need to have the same clinical research and testing that the other antibodies have undergone to ensure that our patients are receiving the standard of care, not substandard of care, and that there’s no increased toxicity for our patients.”

PlantForm’s trastuzumab, plant-produced version of the $6-billion breast cancer drug Herceptin has already completed animal studies successfully. The human clinical trials scheduled for 2014 and market entry is anticipated in 2016. Herceptin’s patent will expire in Europe in 2014, and in North America in 2017.


Source: Global News, PlantForm

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