A Minnesota-based startup company called MNPHARM plans to use tobacco plants to produce personalized treatments for patients battling cancer. Founded by Jeff Reinert and Dave Roeser, MNPHARM uses a process that combines technological advances in controlled indoor atmosphere and biochemistry to transform a plant that is frequently associated with causing cancer into one with the potential to produce lifesaving cancer antibodies.
Using proprietary equipment, MNPHARM grows highly transgenic tobacco plants in a controlled indoor environment. Medical professionals then use a biopsy taken from a cancer patient to introduce some of the patient’s DNA to a bacterium, which is injected into the growing plant. Once the plant has been infiltrated with a reagent containing a specific genetic code, it becomes a “factory” that produces antibodies, vaccines and proteins. The antibodies the infiltrated tobacco plant produces make it possible for the plant to fight off the infection. The antibodies are then extracted from the purified tobacco plant and injected back into the patient, helping them to fight their cancer.
MNPHARM’s patented cylinder growing system, called “orbital gardens,” allow the company to produce antibodies and vaccines in tobacco plants in as few as six days—approximately 30 times faster than traditional cancer-fighting methods. Providing cancer patients with rapid access to treatments is part of the company’s goal to replace outdated traditional treatment methods for complex protein production with the faster, safer and less-expensive methods involving transgenic plants.
The company—which is currently in discussions with Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and the University of California to begin research—has also initiated fundraising efforts in order to ready the business for production of personalized cancer treatments. A funding site on Indiegogo has raised more than $10,000 of the $42,000 needed to complete testing and begin production.