Vaccine "Manufactured" in Tobacco Plants

August 20, 2009

A new vaccine for norovirus has been produced in tobacco plants, a scientist reported on August 18 at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington DC.

A new vaccine for norovirus has been produced in tobacco plants, a scientist reported on August 18 at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Washington DC.

The new vaccine was “manufactured” in a tobacco plant using plant viruses engineered to produce high levels of virus-like particles (VLPs) in tobacco plants over a one to two week time frame. Such plant biotechnology opens the door to more efficient, inexpensive ways to bring vaccines quickly to the public, especially critical in times when viruses mutate into unpredictable new strains, said Charles Arntzen, PhD, of Arizona State University, who reported on the topic at the ACS meeting.

“The recent outbreak of H1N1 influenza virus has once again reminded us of the ability of disease-causing agents to mutate into new and dangerous forms,” Arntzen points out. “For a case like the H1N1 influenza virus, you want to be able to move very rapidly and introduce a commercial vaccine in the shortest possible time. We think we have a major advantage in using engineered plant viruses to scale-up vaccine manufacture within weeks instead of months.”

The use of VLPs and manufacturing process in tobacco plants are two of the latest in a trend of scientists looking to fill the need for swift scale up in vaccine production. Companies such as Novavax have already begun to explore VLPs and their potential for use in quick vaccine production for pandemic situations.

Tobacco plants are also being used by to develop plant-made pharmaceuticals by companies bringing them closer to market. Medicago is developing a pandemic influenza vaccine and Bayer is seeking to produce a patient-specific antibody vaccine for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Sometimes called the “cruise ship virus,” norovirus causes diarrhea and vomiting and may be the second most common viral infection in the US after the flu.