Potential of plants to produce recombinant protein products

Plants have great potential as photosynthetic factories to produce pharmaceutically important and commercially valuable biomedicines and industrial proteins at low cost. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) has approved the drug Elelyso (taliglucerase alfa) produced by carrot cells for treatment of type 1 Gaucher’s disease in 2012. The commercial potential of biomedicines produced by molecular farming has dramatically improved due to the success of an experimental drug called ZMapp, which has immunological activity in Ebola patients. A cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies was produced in tobacco (Nicotiana benthamiana) plants (Chen and Davis 2016). At present, very few drugs made by this technology have been approved by worldwide authorities such as the U.S. FDA. However, plants have been proposed as a novel paradigm for commercial production of proteins over the next decade. In recent years, leading researchers on molecular farming have given more priority to the area of animal-free therapeutic proteins such as parenteral and oral vaccines. Although plant-based platforms have considerable advantages over traditional systems such as bacterial and animal systems, there are several obstacles to commercial-scale production, especially with regards to improving the quality and quantity of plant-produced biologics and industrial materials. One of the biggest barriers to commercialization of this technology is the intense scrutiny of these new plant varieties by regulatory agencies and the public as well as the high costs associated with their regulatory approval.