LONDON, England, July 14, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Cape Times, 07/13/04:
Genetically modified plants are to be used to grow vaccines
against rabies and Aids, scientists have announced.
Europe's first field trial, announced on Monday, is
likely to be carried out in South Africa because of
fears over crop vandalism in Britain.
The GM crop could dramatically reduce the cost of producing
Dubbed "pharming" by its opponents, the announcement
is the latest step forward in the development of technology
that allows medicines to be grown in plants.
Although this project is concerned with injectable
vaccines, other trials under consideration could extend
the research to oral vaccines, which might be grown
in edible raw food such as bananas.
However, concerns about direct action by environmentalists
opposed to GM crops has led to the scientists behind
the project collaborating with a South African research
institute that has offered to grow the first crop.
The EU has awarded 12-million to a pan-European consortium
of scientists who aim to develop the technology for
growing GM plants that can be turned into vaccines.
Professor Julian Ma of St George's Hospital Medical
School in London, the scientific co-ordinator of the
project, said it would take about two years to develop
Clinical trials of the first vaccine derived from GM
plants are planned to take place in 2009.
"Plants are inexpensive to grow and if we were
to engineer them to contain a gene for a pharmaceutical
product, they could produce large quantities of drugs
or vaccine at low cost," Ma said.
"The current methods used to generate these types
of treatments include genetic modification of human
cells and micro-organisms.
"These techniques are labor intensive, expensive
and often only produce relatively small amounts of pharmaceuticals,"
It is likely that the first pharmaceuticals crop will
be either GM maize or GM tobacco that will be engineered
with a set of genes for making prototype vaccines against
either HIV or rabies.
By purifying the proteins from the harvested crop scientists
hope to mass-produce vaccines.
South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial
Research is participating in the research and is particularly
interested in potential vaccines against HIV, the Aids
Friends of the Earth warned the research could have
"widespread negative impacts".
The organisation's GM campaigner Clare Oxborrow said:
"Growing medicines in plants has serious implications
for both human health and the environment."
Ma said 3.3 million people a year die from preventable
diseases such as TB and diphtheria yet there is not
the industrial capacity or funds to produce enough vaccines
"The cost of doing nothing is measured in hundreds
of thousands or millions of people who will die from
preventable diseases," he said.
"We recognize that this is contentious technology
but I think many of the fears are unfounded."
Philip Dale, a plant technologist at the John Innes
Center in Norwich and the project's biosafety co-ordinator,
said the cost of 24-hour surveillance of GM fields in
the UK has made it expensive to conduct similar trials
Greenpeace activists led a campaign to target sites
where GM crops were grown as part of the farm-scale
"It is vitally important that this (field trial)
is not destroyed at the end of it," Dale said.
Measures for containing the crop both physically with
fences and by genetic barriers such as the use of sterile
genes for preventing cross pollination are being studied,
he added. - The Independent
This article was originally published on page 3 of
Cape Times on July 13, 2004, http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=vn20040713032524739C767287