Medicinal products from plants or even tobacco for health – a vision that could soon become reality. Bayer and its subsidiary Icon Genetics have together developed a new production process that can be used to produce biotech drugs in tobacco plants. A new production facility for therapeutic proteins was inaugurated on June 16 in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, with a ceremony attended by guests from the scientific community, politics and business. In the future, the active substances produced in the tobacco plants could be used to develop new approaches to the therapy and prevention of diseases for which the current medical options are not satisfactory.
“This project is intended to improve our chances of finding new therapies for life-threatening diseases by using drugs obtained with biotechnological methods,” explained Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, a member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG whose responsibilities include innovation. “Not all cancers are the same. There are many types of tumor disease which have to be treated individually with specific active substances. The objective is to use this process to produce an individual drug for each patient.” This future-oriented technology is a perfect example of the innovative way in which Bayer is combining its extensive expertise in pharmaceutical research with its knowledge of plant genetics and biotechnology.
At Icon Genetics in the Halle Biocenter, 26 people are currently employed in research into and the development of biotech active substances produced in plants. These substances could be used, for example, to treat cancer or as a vaccine against influenza. The scientists work in approximately 1,000 square meters of laboratories and greenhouses. The new pilot plant has created 11 new jobs in Halle for highly qualified experts, most of whom come from the region. Bayer acquired Icon Genetics in 2006, and since then has invested over EUR 10 million in Halle in the study of plant-made pharmaceuticals.