The Principal Advantages of Plant Production Systems


No other production system offers the potential scalability of plants. Whilst some high-value products could be produced in sufficient amounts in plant cell culture in the future, contained technologies in greenhouses or growth at agricultural levels will allow product manufacture on a massive scale. This in turn will enable the design of new products and approaches in many areas, and in the medical arena, will offer the prospect of providing medicines and vaccines at a scale that could finally match the global health need.  


Plants are cost-effective and easy to grow. The cost of raw goods will certainly be low. However, as this typically represents only a small percentage of the total cost of a product, this is not necessarily where the major financial savings are to be found. The major cost attraction of plants is that the initial investment into a production line is significantly lower compared with conventional fermenter facilities. Many observers have also noted that for a plant-derived pharmaceutical the requirement for a major capital investment can be delayed until much later in the product development line.


Plant cells are higher eukaryotes, and therefore possess, like mammalian cells, an endomembrane system that allows them to produce extremely complex proteins such as monoclonal antibodies that are currently not feasible in, for example, microbial systems. Indeed, all the generally recognized forms of antibody and related engineered molecules have been successfully expressed in plants. In addition, there are examples of proteins that, at present, can only be produced in plants (for example secretory IgA antibodies, and recombinant immune complexes). Thus plants appear to be highly amenable to the production of a wide range of proteins.  


The latest advances in plant biotechnology now allow large scale amounts of high quality recombinant proteins to be produced extremely rapidly. This has allowed at least three plant-based commercial ventures to develop technologies, which will allow them to compete, for example, with existing systems for the production of influenza vaccine, or for the requirement for rapid scalability of products to respond to bio-terrorist threats.