Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Pharmed Meds

Credit: Maksym Yemelyanov/adobe

Credit: Maksym Yemelyanov/adobe

By Karen Harris & Marilyn Anderson

Some clever chemistry is turning plants into pharmaceutical factories that could enable remote communities in developing countries to grow and store stable medicines cheaply.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The distribution of medicines in developing countries is a logistical and economic challenge. Medicines must be cheaply produced so that they are affordable for people with little income, and then they must be maintained in an active form throughout transport and storage.

An enticing and economical alternative to lab-based pharmaceuticals is to harness plants to produce orally active edible meds. Taking your meds could be as simple as eating your greens or sprinkling some sunflower seeds on your breakfast cereal. However, this dream can only become a reality if plants can be engineered to consistently manufacture medicines in an orally available form.

Proteins and peptides meet the first of these criteria: they can be readily engineered in plants because their genetic code can be manipulated to produce a given amino acid sequence. Protein-based medicines also offer a larger surface area to interact with their targets, leading to greater specificity and fewer off-target effects. Protein-based pharmaceuticals currently on the market include synthetic insulin to treat diabetes and the anti-HIV medication enfuvirtide.

However, proteins generally don’t meet the second criteria. They are often ineffective when administered orally because they aren’t stable in biological fluids and are rapidly broken down into inactive fragments before they reach their...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.