Revolution and Reaction in Biopharming
The technology known as “biopharming,” which uses genetic engineering to induce agricultural crops to synthesize high-value pharmaceuticals, emerged with great promise about 15 years ago. Unfortunately, progress has since stalled, owing to the vehement risk-aversion of regulators.
Legitimate objections have been raised about the independence and integrity of the commentaries that Henry Miller has written for Project Syndicate and other outlets, in particular that Monsanto, rather than Miller, drafted some of them. Readers should be aware of this potential conflict of interest, which, had it been known at the time Miller’s commentaries were accepted, would have constituted grounds for rejecting them.
STANFORD – Obtaining medicines from plants is not new. Aspirin was first isolated from the bark of the willow tree in the eighteenth century. And many other common pharmaceuticals, including morphine, codeine, and the fiber supplement Metamucil, are purified from the world’s flora.
More recently, scientists have developed techniques that take this process a step further, using genetic engineering to induce agricultural crops to synthesize high-value pharmaceuticals. Known as “biopharming,” the great promise of this technology emerged about 15 years ago, with clinical trials of vaccines and drugs produced in bananas, tomatoes, and tobacco. Unfortunately, progress has since stalled, owing to the vehement risk-aversion of regulators.
One early example of biopharming was the production by the biotech company Ventria Bioscience of rice that contained two human proteins, lactoferrin and lysozyme. Once grown and harvested, the rice kernel is processed to extract and purify the proteins for use in oral rehydration solution for treating diarrhea, which is surpassed only by respiratory diseases as the leading infectious killer of children under the age of five in developing countries.