« Two Australian scientists working to genetically modify plants to produce medicines for treat a range of diseases, from HIV to cancer, have been awarded $ 1 million to make the concept a reality.
Professor David Craik from the University of Queensland and Professor Marilyn Anderson from La Trobe University won the biennial Ramaciotti Biomedical Research Award, one of the biggest awards in Australian science.
The pair are working to discover peptides, which are mini proteins from plants, and then trying to redesign them as drugs to treat illnesses including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and cancer.
Professor Craik said the « bio-drugs » would be cheap, more potent, and with fewer side effects than regular pharmaceutical drug.
« For example we have a prostate cancer drug lead that we could put into sunflower seeds, so that people wouldn’t necessarily have to swallow tablets or capsules but could be having their prostate cancer drug as part of their diet, » he said.
But if we could be … putting an anti-HIV medicine into a plant that they could be growing in their backyard, making a tea from the plant … that could revolutionise the treatment of HIV in Africa.Professor David Craik
« So it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for drug delivery.
« We think this could really have major advantages for the developing world because, for example, the life expectancy of a male in Tanzania today is 37 years, and that’s because of HIV AIDS.
« And that’s not because we don’t have good medicines for that. It’s just that they can’t afford it over there.
« But if we could be, for example, putting an anti-HIV medicine into a plant that they could be growing in their backyard, making a tea from the plant, in theory it could be something that could revolutionise the treatment of HIV in Africa. »
Professor Anderson said the fact that the medicines would not have to be kept refrigerated, they do not have to be injected, they could be easily transported, or people could grow them themselves.
The pair hope to conduct human trials of their bio drugs in ten years, starting with treatments for cancer and pain.
Professor Craik said pain affected more than 35 million people worldwide, and even the best-selling drugs on the market only work in a third of patients.
« So there’s a huge unmet medical need for pain drugs and the molecule that we’re working on is, as I said, a 100 to 150 times better than morphine, » he said.
« We just need to work out how to express larger amounts of it in plants so that patients could have access to that.
« This grant will really kick-start the whole process. »
Article by Jessica Longbottom
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