Farmers may one day be producing pharmaceutical products from their crops if a research programme made public yesterday is successful. The Pharma-Planta project aims to develop genetically modified (GM) plants capable of producing drugs and vaccines for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and rabies.
The European Union has invested US$14.8 million in the programme, which is being led by academics — rather than the biotechnology industry — from 39 laboratories in 11 European countries. The project's scientific coordinator estimates that plant-derived drugs and vaccines could cost ten to 100 times less than those produced conventionally.
Friends Of The Earth, a UK environmental group that lobbies against genetically modified crops, approves of the project's aims but says its research could have widespread negative impacts.