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Rutgers researchers developing technology to help New Jersey farmers "grow" pharmaceuticals

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. In research that could turn Garden State farmers into highly profitable manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and other therapeutic agents, Rutgers University scientists have developed a way to use living plants to reliably and inexpensively manufacture biologically active compounds ranging from human insulin to cancer-fighting supplements.

A research group led by Rutgers Professor of Biology Ilya Raskin plans to partner with New Jersey farmers through Phytomedics, Inc., a Middlesex County company he founded in 1996, to grow plants for their therapeutic benefits rather than their food value. Dayton-based Phytomedics (phyto means "plant" in Greek) is currently training selected New Jersey farmers to use the new technology.

Raskin expects his patented technology to economically revive New Jersey farmers since they will be able to move from producing low-value food commodities to high-value therapeutic agents. "Traditional agriculture is aimed at increasing plant yields, something that's important in third world nations but no longer as important here," he notes.

In the Phytomedics product pipeline undergoing testing in animals are therapeutic compounds to fight bacteria, fungi, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, HIV, and herpes. Others under study show promise as tools to combat baldness, high cholesterol levels, and Parkinson's disease, says Raskin.

The most advanced pipeline prescription product is a botanical drug that in clinical trials has proven highly effective against rheumatoid arthritis. But the first product expected is a non-prescription anti-cancer food supplement made from a compound produced by winter cress, a leafy plant sometimes used in salads. As a non-prescription product, it won't be required to undergo the time-consuming federal approval process for prescription drugs, notes Raskin. Equally promising is Phytomedics plant manufacturing technology aimed
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Contact: Kevin P. Hyland
khyland@ur.rutgers.edu
732-932-7084 x633
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
14-May-2001


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