Innovative technology for production of new pharmaceuticals forms basis of new company

Ghent, Belgium & Espoo, Finland Plants produce a lot of valuable pharmaceuticals − but rather slowly and in small quantities. So, scientists from the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) have together with Ghent University and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland developed a technology to increase the production of pharmaceuticals in plant cells. The technology forms the foundation for the new company SoluCel. This week, the authoritative scientific journal PNAS is publishing results from the researchers that confirm the importance of the new technology.

Plants take good care of us
Plants are by far our most important source of vital substances. We think automatically of food, but a great many pharmaceuticals come from plants as well. 25% of today's pharmaceuticals are vegetal − in total, they account for a worldwide turnover of 33 billion euro. Still, because plants are relatively slow producers, the production of these pharmaceuticals is not so straightforward. Therefore, in the 1980s, scientists directed all their attention to the use of plant cells as production units. These plant cells can, in fact, produce the same substances as the plants themselves, but they do it much more quickly.

VIB and VTT researchers make further progress
The cell cultures also have their limitations. The production of secondary metabolites, for example − which are important medically − is very limited. It's possible to modify cell cultures in a way that they do produce these substances in larger quantities, but this is a very time-consuming process. The VIB research group of Dirk Inz and Alain Goossens, together with the VTT research group of Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey and Heiko Rischer, has developed a technology that increases the production of these secondary metabolites in a highly targeted way, thus gaining precious time. By introducing alterations into the DNA of plant cells, they s

Contact: Sooike Stoops
VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology

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