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
The GM crop could dramatically reduce the cost of producing vaccines.
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 the technique.
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,"
"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 virus.
Friends of the Earth warned the research could have "widespread
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 for everyone.
"The cost of doing nothing is measured in hundreds of thousands
or millions of people who will die from preventable diseases,"
"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 in Britain.
Greenpeace activists led a campaign to target sites where GM crops
were grown as part of the farm-scale trials.
"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