Lab Canada

Growing drugs inside corn

Vancouver, BC – Corn can provide more than tasty food, animal feed or the sugar for what we should not eat.

Researchers in Canada and Australia have grown a drug in corn that can treat a rare genetic disease. Reporting in the journal Nature Communications, Dr. Xu He, a research associate with the Department of Biological Sciences at the Simon Fraser University, who led the study, wrote that they have grown transgenic corn that can synthesize alpha-L-iduronidase, an enzyme used for a debilitating condition called mucopolysaccharidosis I (MPS I).

The disease causes progressive damage to the heart, brain, and other organs. MPS I is one of dozens of lysosomal storage disorders, including Fabry and Gaucher disease, many of which can be treated with enzyme replacement therapies. The current procedure of making these enzymes is in mammalian cell cultures inside stainless steel tanks. The process is very expensive, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year per patient, while this new method can potentially offer an inexpensive method to manufacture this treatment.

While the research is still at an early stage and the resulting drugs have not been subjected to clinical trials, this research heralds an advance in the field of molecular pharming. This could eventually see complex biotech medicines being created in plants rather than factories.

The abstract is available here.