Plant-Made Pharmaceuticals: Are They Good for Your Health?
On Tuesday, May 18th, 2004, the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health (JIWH), in conjunction with the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), hosted “Plant-Made Pharmaceuticals: Are They Good for Your Health?” in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
Plant-made pharmaceuticals are an innovative yet controversial way to manufacture protein therapeutics. The majority of pharmaceuticals are either chemically synthesized or produced using living mammalian cells. Pharmaceutical companies are looking to genetically engineer plants as a less costly means of producing proteins, resulting in plant-made pharmaceuticals.
Sherry Marts, PhD, Vice President of Scientific Affairs at SWHR, and Susan Halebsky Dimock, PhD, Program Manager at JIWH gave introductory remarks and introduced the panel to a full audience of congressional staff, industry representatives, government officials, health advocacy groups and women’s health organizations.
Richard V. McCloskey, MD, Vice President of Medical Technology at Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, opened the panel with a discussion of the potential of plant-made pharmaceuticals to offer a low-cost production method for manufacturing safer and more effective biologics. He noted plant-made pharmaceuticals’ advantage in lacking mammalian contaminants and human pathogens. He also discussed the role of biotechnology in developing antibodies valuable in treating rheumatoid arthritis, a condition especially debilitating to women, as well as Crohn’s Disease, breast cancer and colon cancer.
The second panelist was Cindy Smith, Deputy Administrator Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS) at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). BRS works in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect regulate plant-made pharmaceuticals. Specifically, BRS regulates the field-testing, importation, and interstate movement of transgenic plants to protect the food supply, American agriculture, and the environment. Ms. Smith discussed the steps taken by BRS since its creation in 2002 to impose stricter standards for plant-made pharmaceuticals, ensure compliance, and gain public confidence in these measures.
David B. Sandalow, Guest Scholar at The Brookings Institution, addressed the environmental implications of plant-made pharmaceuticals. His primary concern was the issue of containment and the possibility that transgenic plants will spread to the wider ecosystem and cause negative effects on the environment, our food supply, and potentially our health. He also brought up the issue of foreign, especially European opposition to genetically modified plants, and the potential for a negative impact on trade. In addition, Mr. Sandalow pointed out the danger of people with plant allergies unknowingly using a plant-made pharmaceutical.
The final panelist, James W. Hardin, PhD, Interim Director of the Saint Louis University Cancer Center, excited the audience about with a discussion of his work on a tobacco-based pharmaceutical to treat ovarian cancer. Dr. Hardin noted the advantages of using tobacco in a positive and non-harmful capacity. Tobacco plants are well suited for use in this area due to their high yield, low cost, status as a non-food or feed crop, and ease of genetic manipulation. Dr. Hardin and his colleagues are working to produce a substance in tobacco plants that may be effective in treating advanced ovarian cancer. It has also shown promise for uterine, breast, and prostate cancer.