How tobacco plants can help fight Ebola
As the battle against Ebola continues to ramp up globally, CTV News has learned that an Ontario-based biotech company is working on an unlikely way to fight the spread of the disease.
Biotech company Plantform has been tasked by agencies in both the U.S. and Canada to produce drugs for testing against strains of the Ebola virus other than the one causing the present outbreak in West Africa.
The Guelph, Ont. company is using techniques developed in state-of-the-art research at the University of Guelph, to quickly produce vaccines derived from antibodies in tobacco plants.
“What we’ve been asked to do is develop a program to start making a drug for these other strains of Ebola, which may be the cause of the next outbreak,” Plantform Corporation CEO and president Don Stewart told CTV News.
In the last few weeks, researchers there have been developing a drug to fight the Sudan strain of Ebola. It’s one of five known Ebola viruses, but is different from the strain that is blamed for killing more than 4,500 people in West Africa.
The process involves dipping tobacco plants into a solution containing antibody DNA provided by the Americans. In less than two weeks, the plant will reproduce, be harvested, purified, and sent back to the U.S. for testing, with the hope of developing an effective treatment for the Sudan virus before the next new Ebola virus outbreak.
University of Guelph professor of Environmental Biology Dr. Chris Hall, who is also Canada’s Research Chair in Recombinant Antibody Technology, said biotech drug production based on plants has distinct advantages including higher yield, lower costs and faster turnarounds.
“That’s one of the advantages of it – speed,” Hall said, explaining that the plants not only grow large leaves, but can be easily grown indoors.
If the experimental drugs are proven effective for the Sudan strain of Ebola, that means greenhouse production can be easily increased to scale up production.
“We’re quite confident it will work,” Hall said.
A similar method is being used to make the drug cocktail that is currently being used to treat infected Ebola patients. This anti-body plant technology has also been used in developing drugs to treat HIV and cancer.
Plantform reports that the cost of plant-based production is about one-tenth the cost of manufacturing antibody in the traditional fashion of using cell cultivation.
With files from CTV’s John Vennavally-Rao