One acre of genetically engineered tobacco plants can produce enough anthrax vaccine to inoculate the entire U.S. population safely and inexpensively.

Professor Henry Daniell said his method, applied to other vaccines and scarce medicines, can eliminate shortages, reduce costs by as much as 80 percent and curb incidents of contamination, which is a problem in the traditional, fermentation production of vaccines.

Daniell said he chose tobacco to grow vaccines and other medicines because it is a perennial and prolific producer, generating a million seeds per plant. Unlike corn or other edible plants, a genetically engineered tobacco plant is unlikely to find its way into the food supply, he said.

“It’s a revolutionary concept,” said Daniell, who has spent 20 years researching the possibilities for producing medical therapies through genetically engineered plants. “These are new-age technologies.”
To create the anthrax vaccine, Daniell said he injected the vaccine gene into the chloroplast genome of tobacco cells. Daniell said mice injected with his tobacco-generated vaccine in a recent National Institutes of Health trial survived an onslaught of anthrax 15 times greater than what might be experienced in an anthrax terrorist attack.

Results of the study, which NIH and the U.S. Department of Agriculture partially funded, are featured in the December issue of the Infection and Immunity journal, which is published by the American Society for Microbiology.

Daniell said his vaccine is naturally free of anthrax toxins, which have contaminated some of the military’s vaccine produced by traditional fermentation methods and led to some military personnel fighting the immunization.

Aside from anthrax, Daniell said he is working with tobacco-grown treatments for type 1 diabetes, hepatitis C, plague and cholera. Daniell said type 1 diabetes has been reversed in eight weeks in mice fed with his tobacco-grown insulin. He said he can reduce the cost of hepatitis C treatment from $40,000 to $20 through tobacco-grown therapy. Exact figures for anthrax vaccine savings are uncertain because current costs aren’t available from the military, he said.

The next step for the anthrax vaccine is for a human trial in which subjects’ level of immunity will be tested. Daniell said other tobacco-generated therapies could reach the market within three to five years.

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