The consortium, called Pharma-Planta, wants to produce vaccines and other treatments for major diseases, such as HIV/Aids, rabies and TB and they hope to start clinical trials by the year 2009. The project's aim is to focus on areas that will be of greatest benefit to developing nations where they feel that access to most vaccines is very poor at the same time keeping in mind that human health and the environment are protected.
The first product, possibly grown in maize, is likely to be an antibody that can be used to block HIV transmission and it has been decided to incorporate it into a microbicidal cream that could be used in the vagina.
The second product will probably to be a post-bite vaccine for rabies, which is still a significant killer in Africa and southeast Asia.
Researchers at Pharma -Planta say that the plants will be grown in pharmaceutical production units on dedicated land , isolated from food crops. Thirty-nine labs in 11 European countries will work together, with input from researchers in South Africa, where HIV/Aids is a major public health issue. Scientific co-ordinators at Pharma -Planta say many commercial companies have withdrawn from vaccine development and production because of low economic returns ,however they say that Pharma-Planta hopes the technology it will develop over the course of its initial five years of funding will eventually boost the global supply of treatments.
Current methods used include genetic modification of human cells and microorganisms such as bacteria. These techniques are labour intensive, expensive and often only produce relatively small amounts of pharmaceuticals. Researchers at Pharma - Planta say that plants are inexpensive to grow as well as to engineer them to contain a gene for a pharmaceutical product and most importantly they could produce large quantities of drugs or vaccines at low cost.
The project has yet to decide which plants to use but some of the plants most likely to be used include tobacco, maize, potatoes and tomatoes. Although Pharma- Planta claims to maintain and follow the ideal conditions and procedures for their project others are of the opinion that Pharma- Planta's research could have widespread negative impacts and also suggest that a clear set of criteria must be established to ensure that human health and the environment are protected