Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Thailand has achieved a groundbreaking accomplishment by developing antibodies from tobacco plants that hinder the growth of cancer cells in laboratory animals. This achievement not only has potential implications for advancing cancer treatment and research within the country but also offers hope for more affordable and accessible cancer treatment options. Building on their previous success in creating a COVID-19 vaccine from tobacco plants, researchers at Baiya Phytopharm Co., Ltd., affiliated with the university, have now made significant strides in antibody drug development. Their pioneering work involves utilizing tobacco plants to discover antibodies that can shrink and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. This innovative breakthrough underscores the potential of plant-based biopharmaceutical research and offers new possibilities for improving cancer treatment strategies.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Waranyoo Phoolcharoen from Chulalongkorn University explains that their research team has successfully developed a technology and system to produce plant proteins for antibody drugs. This innovation aims to reduce drug production costs, making cancer treatment more accessible to patients. By focusing on biopharmaceutical research in cancer immunotherapy, the team aims to widen the availability of medications and address pressing healthcare needs. The research has been recognized with a prestigious 2023 research award from the National Research Council of Thailand.
Cancer immunotherapy, unlike traditional chemotherapy, aims to strengthen the patient’s immune cells to prevent cancer cells from attaching to them, allowing the body’s immune system to manage cancer cells more effectively. However, the cost of antibody drugs used in immunotherapy can be high due to the reliance on foreign technology and production processes.
Under Assoc. Prof. Dr. Waranyoo’s leadership, a research team is committed to developing antibody drugs using local technology to lower production costs and improve access for more patients. This research is supported by CU Enterprise and focuses on advancing plant biotechnology to create essential proteins and develop drugs and vaccines. Tobacco plants, specifically Nicotiana benthamiana from Australia, are used as hosts for drug production due to their efficient antibody generation capabilities.
The research involves incorporating genes responsible for antibody production into tobacco plants, which then produce the necessary antibodies. These antibodies can hinder cancer cell growth, as demonstrated in lab animal experiments. The next steps include assessing safety, toxicity, and the drug’s structure, with the aim of obtaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration for human testing.
If successful, this research could lead to localized and cost-effective drug production, improving accessibility to cancer treatments. Beyond cancer, this technology holds promise for developing drugs or vaccines for various diseases, addressing healthcare challenges in Thailand and beyond. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Waranyoo emphasizes that the goal of this innovation is to enhance healthcare solutions for the Thai population through competitive and effective medications.