SemBioSys Genetics Inc., out of Canada, was granted U.S. patent number 7,547, 821 entitled"Methods for the Production of Insulin in Plants". A similar patent was granted in Europe last year, and there are patent applications submitted in a multitude of countries worldwide according to the official company press release. The ever-increasing obesity problem that is facing the United States virtually guarantees great success on the patent as plant production is considered the fastest and cheapest methods of reproducing proteins. They will have a lock on the commercialization processes of this plant production method, I bet you wish you would have wanted to know this before its IPO last week.
From the abstract of the Patent "Production in seeds offers flexibility in storage and shipment of insulin as a raw material, and insulin retains its activity upon extraction from stored seed. Further, the amount of biomass subjected to extraction is limited, due to the relatively low water content of plant seeds." The benefits also include the cost factor in production as the scientists do not have to spend tons of money on generating the proteins within labs in small quantities. There is one aspect of the work that seems to worry me based on language in the patent. The claims of the patent seem to use tobacco, as it is typically an easy plant to use due to its regeneration and large pours that let you pop those proteins right out of the leaves in a vacuum chamber. However, it seems that the inventors would prefer to use the Arabidopsis (first plant that had its genome sequenced due to its simplicity), flax plant, or safflower. I am not sure the reason to steer away form tobacco, as it works well in demonstration scale tests, but perhaps its the perception, cost, complexity of the plant, or a host of other factors in which a learned expert in science or business could provide illumination.
This preference for other plants besides the Arabidopsis concerns me, as I believe it will give it a tougher time through the regulatory channels that transgenic crops must go through with APHIS and FDA. No one is much on tobacco, even smoking "unprocessed" tobacco is odious and the demand for consumption of Arabidopsis is virtually non-existent, so there would be no concern of these seeds getting into the food supply as there is no channel for these seeds. However, flax is being used more and more as an alternative to "traditional" foods with its presumed or known health effects, and safflower is used in vegetable oil and salad dressings. I believe this could cause more obstacles than need to be there during the regulatory phase as well as the possibility of public relations problems. This push-back from segments of the public can be seen in the opposition of corn's usage in pharmacropping.
I will continue to follow the progress of this company's patented invention as it continues its clinical trials and comment on the legal steps it will take and possible ramifications of actions taken while attempting to install it into the commercial chain.
I want to comment, and give credit, on where I get my base information to run off with into fanciful flights of legal discovery and opining upon all things seed. Please visit SeedQuest as they provide far more of an overview of the seed industry than my blog ever could, as they should. Another great resource for topic ideas and the most comprehensive blog regarding the extremely broad field of agricultural law is a combined effort of the National Agricultural Law Center and the American Agricultural Law Center, which can be found here.