Philip Morris plains to plant the flu vaccine in China

The Canadian company has joined forces with the cigarette giant Philip Morris in an unusual project to sell flu vaccine in the huge Chinese market, a potentially important step forward for science controversial production of pharmaceuticals in plants.

Medicago Inc. said Tuesday it is licensing its system to make the vaccine in tobacco Philip Morris Products SA, which will develop, test, and, he hopes, the market products in China, where it has already sold a lot of different elements - Marlboro cigarettes.

It brings innovative crop “molecular farming” is a bit closer to patients after years of research funding problems, failed start-ups and warnings about medical plants accidental contamination of food crops. We now have a foothold in China, with a very large Fortune 100 companies on our side. . . This is not a small.

Medicago has received funding or investment in recent years from the U.S. Department of Defense, Genpole France and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation of Japan, with the trials as it is pandemic and seasonal influenza vaccines.

The deal with Philip Morris is the gateway to most untapped market for vaccines is expected to grow ten-fold-largest country in the world in the coming years, said Andy Sheldon, Medicago’s chief executive.

 “We now have a foothold in China, with a very large Fortune 100 company is on our side,” he said. “It’s not enough.” According to the agreement, Philip Morris will produce vaccines using the system Medicago, testing and regulatory approval, a process that can take several years, Iro Antoniadou, spokesman Philip Morris International, said in an e-mail. “It is premature to comment on the timing or other conditions,” she said.

The company managed to break into the tightly controlled - but huge - Chinese cigarette market in 2008, reaching a deal to be made public Marlborough China National Tobacco at two of its factories. Philip Morris said it hopes to increase its presence in the country, which has 320 million smokers, and about one million tobacco-related deaths per year.

Even if the product is one that aims to protect human health, the partnership with the second largest producer of tobacco in the world puts Medicago in danger of being a PR pawn said Neil Collishaw doctors for Smoke-Free Canada.

“They [Philip Morris] go out of their way to trumpet corporate social responsibility, but we and our colleagues have documented that most public relations fluff to mask some really odious behavior, which involves the use, poisoning and killing their customers,” said Mr. Collishaw.

Mr. Sheldon, however, defended the agreement as an important boost for his company at a time when the bio-tech companies hard-pressed to find investors. “We use the money to produce products that could ultimately save millions of lives, he said.” We feel very good about it. “

Some scientists change the genetics of plants, such as tobacco, safflower and alfalfa, as they grow. Medicago not genetically modify tobacco plants, but it puts DNA in the leaves of mature plants that produce a protein that acts as a shield against the flu.

The promise of science is that it can produce a vaccine - or drugs - faster and cheaper than traditional methods. Plant in North Carolina was built with $ 21 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense managed to produce 10 million doses of flu vaccine in the “rapid fire” a court recently, said Mr. Sheldon.

A vaccine against avian influenza H5N1 - which first raised the pandemic - could be on the market by 2013, the seasonal flu vaccine a few years after that, he said. Other Canadians who have delved into the field of molecular farming, meanwhile, have not been as successful. Calgary-based SemBioSys, which develops insulin and heart drug, is produced in genetically modified safflower, closed earlier this year after burning through millions of dollars. TSX-listed firms cited “lack of funds”.

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