Victor Klimyuk, COO of the company Icon Genetics inspects Tobacco plants (Nicotiana benthamiana) in a laboratory in Halle, August 14, 2014. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
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Biotech drug production techniques based on plants, which may prove to be faster, higher yielding and cheaper than current methods using mammalian cells, haven't caught on with the biggest pharmaceutical companies.The leading players in so-called "plantibodies" include San Diego's Mapp Pharmaceutical, which garnered global attention for an experimental Ebola drug given to two American medical workers, as well as companies like Germany's Icon Genetics, Canada's PlantForm Corp., and Delaware-based IBio Inc. All of the privately held companies are working to produce antibodies, protein drugs and vaccines in fast-growing plants. The one successful venture into plant-derived drugs is a U.S.-approved therapy for rare disease made by Israel's Protalix Biotherapeutics, and marketed with Pfizer Inc.The drug, Elelyso, is an enzyme produced from genetically engineered carrot cells, but the cells are not reproduced in the plants. Pfizer, in an emailed statement, said it is not focusing on producing drugs in plants.Genentech, the biotech arm of Roche, said it does not manufacture proteins from plants. PlantForm's Stewart estimated that for some protein drugs, the cost of plant-based production could be one-tenth the cost of traditional biotechnology manufacturing.
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