Thailand researchers have successfully used tobacco plants to develop antibodies that have inhibitory effects on the growth of cancer cells in laboratory animals, according to News-Medical.
“Our research team has developed the technology and system to produce plant proteins to make antibody drugs, with the hope to help reduce the cost of drug production so that cancer patients in the country can access drugs more easily and widely,” said Waranyoo Phoolcharoen, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmaceutical Botany, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Chulalongkorn University, where the research is taking place.
The potential of the research was recognized with a 2023 research award from the National Research Council of Thailand.
The researchers are using an Australian species of Nicotiana benthamiana.
“We use plants as factories to produce the proteins we need,” said Phoolcharoen. “We insert antibody-producing genes into tobacco plants in order for the tobacco plants to produce the antibodies (drugs) we need. The extracted protein (antibody) is then purified. We found that the antibodies produced by the plants can bind to proteins on the surface of immune cells.”
“The antibodies that the research team produced from plants can inhibit the growth of cancer cells in laboratory animals,” Phoolcharoen said. “The size of the tumor cells in mice decreased. This ability to make cells shrink in size is comparable to that of the drugs used in the market.”
The next steps in the research are testing for safety and toxicity and studying the structure of the drug.
“If this research is successful, we will be able to produce our own medicines locally, reducing the cost of drug production and lowering medicinal expenses. More people will then have access to cancer medicines,” said Phoolcharoen.
The technology used in this research could also be used to produce antibodies to develop drugs or vaccines for many other diseases.
Phoolcharoen has also been involved in a venture to produce a Covid-19 vaccine using tobacco plants.