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USDA approves the first plant-based vaccine

In what could be a milestone for veterinary as well as human vaccine research, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on January 31, 2006, announced it had issued the first market license ever issued to a veterinary vaccine produced in plant cells.

The vaccine, made by Dow AgroSciences of Indianapolis, Indiana, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, has proven safe and effective in protecting chickens from illness caused by the Newcastle disease virus, according to the USDA’s Center for Veterinary Biologics. The subunit vaccine was produced using modified tobacco plant cells in an indoor, biocontained production system, eliminating environmental or consumer concerns about pharmaceuticals produced in food crops or open fields.

Although Dow may decide not to sell the now-approved chicken vaccine because of market concerns, the company called the license a “regulatory milestone,” allowing it to develop a range of other veterinary vaccines. Using the same production system for human vaccines is “a real possibility,” the company said.

Charles Arntzen, a biotech researcher at Arizona State University in Phoenix, who has been pushing plant-based vaccines for many years, welcomes the approval. “It shows that large companies are investing product-development resources in plant-derived pharmaceuticals, [and] that the [USDA] is receptive to the new strategy,” Arntzen says.

doi:10.1038/nbt0306-233

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