Cuba's tobacco finds use in vaccine purification

By Gregory Roumeliotis

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biotechnology

The first ever monoclonal antibody obtained starting from
transgenic plants with the purpose of purifying a human vaccine has
been registered with Cuban authorities, meaning cigars may not be
the only application the country's tobacco is used for in the
future.

The country's official news agency reported the antibody is used in the process of purifying the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) of the Hepatitis B vaccine produced in Cuba by Havana's Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center (CIGB), sold under the trademark of Heberbiovac-HB.

CIGB scientists say obtaining the antibody from genetically modified tobacco plants, has advantages over the traditional process of starting from the ascitic liquid of the mouse, due to higher levels of safety and production.

They also stress that tobacco plantations that are genetically modified have nothing to do with the commercial strains of that plant and that the CIGB has taken appropriate actions to avoid possible risks to the environment when cultivating engineered strains.

This production process is confined to special controlled growing areas where the technology specifically created with that purpose is in use, according to the good agricultural production practices demanded in the obtaining of vegetable biomass for pharmaceutical applications, the CIGB said.

The monoclonal antibody obtained from transgenic plants obtained the license from the National Center of Biological Safety that is part of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.

Be it recombinant proteins in milk, polyclonal antibodies in eggs or digestive enzymes in corn, the potential of transgenic animals and plants for the cheap and efficient production of biopharmaceuticals is huge, potentially leading to sales of more than $12bn (€10bn) by 2012 according to market research firm Kalorama.

However, due to the practical difficulties involved, big pharma has been apprehensive about transgenic drugs even before the ruling and despite the significant savings and reliability that transgenic technology promises.

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