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What pharmaceutical drugs are derived from genetically modified plants?

Submitted by: JRKrick


Expert response from Richard Green

Former Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Manager

Friday, 06/19/2015 14:34

There are not many as yet.  I was only able to find one. On May 1, 2012, the FDA approved its first plant-cell based recombinant drug, Elelyso for treating Gaucher’s disease, a rare genetic enzyme deficiency.  It is made using genetically engineered carrot cells.
Elelyso is manufactured by growing the plant cells in bioreactors.  This production method is typically used for the most common types of organisms that are genetically engineered to produce a pharmaceutical drug (protein).  Those frequently used organisms are bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells.  The organism used really depends on the complexity of the protein.  The most complex need mammalian cell machinery to assemble them correctly, the simplest can be made in bacteria, and others fall in-between.
The area that is really being explored to produce pharmaceutical proteins from plants is Plant Molecular Pharming or Plant-made-Pharmaceuticals. Instead of culturing plant cells in bioreactors, the plant is grown much like any other crop.  In essence, the plant is the bioreactor for producing the protein of interest.  
The most high profile case of Pharming is the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp.  It is made in tobacco plants.  As of 2007, vaccines, enzymes, and hormones were all being developed in such plants as tobacco, rice, maize, potato, lettuce, spinach and safflower.
It is only a matter of time before more pharmaceuticals from genetically engineered plants enter the market.