Last month, a monoclonal antibody produced in the leaves of tobacco plants entered phase I clinical trials in the United Kingdom. The antibody, known as P2G12, recognizes an HIV surface protein and is expected to help stop the transmission of the virus, although it has never been tested in humans. The phase I trial, underway at the University of Surrey, will test the safety of vaginally applying the antibody to 11 healthy women.
This is the first plant-produced antibody to be cleared for clinical trials by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency (the UK equivalent of the US Food and Drug Administration). Producing the antibody using tobacco plants grown in a greenhouse in Germany is 10 to 100 times cheaper than using conventional methods employing bacteria or mammalian cells, Smart Planet reports. “Monoclonal antibodies can be made in plants to the same quality as those made using existing conventional production systems," Professor Julian Ma from St George's University, London and joint co-ordinator of the project, told The Guardian. “That is something many people did not believe could be achieved.”