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Corn-bred pharmaceuticals

Drugs to prevent herpes and AIDS may be grown in a farmer's field of corn. A collaboration between a well-established drug manufacturer and a new company developing antibody drug products may make corn plants the ultimate pharmaceutical factory.

Dow Chemical Company, Midland, MI, and EPIcyte Pharmaceutical, San Diego, CA, recently announced a long-term agreement for bringing the new antibody technology to the marketplace. In the agreement, EPIcyte is responsible for the technology to grow the antibodies for human and animal pharmaceuticals in plants. Dow and Dow AgroSciences will process the plants and manufacture the drugs.

EPIcyte has developed the new technology it calls Plantibodies for manufacturing pharmaceutical-grade antibodies in plants. This technology could vastly change how drugs are produced. Currently, antibodies used for vaccines must be grown in labs on animal tissue cell cultures. EPIcyte reports this is a long and expensive process.

The Plantibodies process is much faster than the traditional use of tissue cultures and may cost 90% less. EPIcyte has successfully grown antibodies for human drugs in corn and tobacco. Although the first plants were grown in a greenhouse, the company envisions mass production of the antibodies in field plots.

Products under development include a herpes antibody to protect against the transmission of herpes, an HIV antibody to prevent the transmission of AIDS, and an anti-sperm product to protect against conception. The Plantibodies technology also is being developed for animal health products. EPIcyte hopes to bring some of these products to market by 2006 or 2007.

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