A newly developed anti-HIV drug, which has been manufactured using genetically modified (GM) tobacco plants, is undergoing safety trials after receiving approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA).
A small group of women in the UK have now been given the drug to test its safety and the developers are hoping it will prove to be effective in preventing the HIV infection.
It is also hoped that the antibody, known currently as P2G12, will eventually be offered in developing countries as an effective yet cheap and modern HIV medication.
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The development of the drug is part of the major Pharma-Planta project which was launched in 2004 and funded by the European Commission.
It was designed to try to find a way of developing hard-to-produce pharmaceutical proteins in GM plants to reduce the cost of drugs and medications.
The aim is to ultimately increase the accessibility of the drugs, which are highly effective, to third world countries across the world.
It is estimated this process of drug manufacturing is between 10 and 100 times cheaper than more conventional methods.
Professor Julian Ma, who is one of the coordinators of the Pharma-Planta project, said in an interview: “The driver was to produce these medicines economically and at a level that would satisfy global demand.”
“The approval from the MHRA for us to proceed with human trials is an acknowledgement that monoclonal antibodies can be made in plants to the same quality as those made using existing conventional production systems,” Ma added.
“That is something many people did not believe could be achieved.”
Eleven women are currently taking part in the trial, which is being undertaken to test the safety of the antibody when it is prescribed at different doses.