TRADITIONAL VERSUS PLANT-BASED PROTEIN PRODUCTION
The expression of pharmaceutical, and even industrial, proteins in plants is a disruptive platform that offers a number of advantages over conventional expression systems. It is cheaper, faster, safer, better. The very definition of disruptive.
Antibodies are either classed as polyclonal or monoclonal. Polyclonal antibodies bind multiple epitopes (antigens) and are a heterologous mixture of different antibodies. These are currently made in live animals. Monoclonals are more specific to certain antigens and are produced in either large scale yeast or bacterial systems as well as mammalian / insect cell culture platforms.
These traditional processes are very expensive and using live animals raises ethical concerns. They are extremely costly to set up, ranging from US$100 million to US$500 million and can take up to 5 years to build, making them unaffordable for emerging economies. Plant-based expression platforms, however, cost a fraction of this, starting at US$200 000 and can be in full production in under 8 months.
In addition, traditional systems cannot scale-up quickly to meet rapidly changing demands such as disease outbreaks or pandemics, whereas with a plant-based platform there is rapid scaleability - we just add more plants. Plant-based platforms are therefore far more flexible, ensuring a security of supply to meet sudden surges in market demand as well as being adaptable to changes in market needs. We are also capable of responding to uniquely African needs.
The disruptive potential of the plant-based platform creates an equally disruptive product pipeline. In traditional systems new pharmaceutical proteins can take months to develop. In plant-based systems we can have new proteins in vials and ready for distribution within weeks of harvesting.
Plant based systems can also produce milligram quantities of novel proteins, or proteins in 'proof of concept' phase. We can also easily produce custom proteins in small quantities for niche markets. All that is needed is the genetic sequence, confirmation the plants can express these proteins and the proteins are of acceptable quality, purity and specificity.
Animal, cell-based and bacterial systems are also not ideal for the production of vaccines and therapeutics due to contamination/transfer of zoonotic elements. Plants are therefore the safer alternative for producing therapeutic grade proteins. Plant pathogens are not transferable to humans or animals.