Tobacco Plants for New Drugs

Drug development often begins with plants and their proteins

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The global market for botanical and plant-derived drugs is expected to balloon to over $32 billion in 2013. Researchers in Germany have answered this expensive call with potentially low-cost therapies.

German researchers being honored for their research efforts with the Prize for Human-Centered Technology, show substances in transgenic plants and plant suspension cells are both economical and safe. These proteins derived from the tobacco leaves are currently being tested for use in clinical studies.

"Antibodies have been developed from tobacco leaves."

One example of current potential applications: Antibodies developed from the tobacco protein could be used to manufacture a protective vaginal gel which could protect women from an HIV infection. In another new project, the researchers are using plants to produce a malaria vaccine.

Dr. Jürgen Drossard from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology explains that tobacco has been of great use for molecular biologists for quite some time. 

Tobacco easily accepts foreign gene coding for pharmaceutical proteins, grows quite plentifully, is safe and cheap to maintain. Of course, the researchers do not use manure as a fertilizer for the tobacco.

While growing the tobacco plants is relatively easy, extracting as much protein as possible from the leaves only solved a part of the problem. The German research team developed new equipment  because current processes used in the food industry work on a scale not acceptable for drug development.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 27, 2011
Last Updated:
June 2, 2011