The suitability of plants against new human virus diseases, also against coronaviruses

The use of plants as biofactories allows the production of very high amounts of human virus proteins suited for the quick development of vaccines and diagnostic tools


Although not widely known, plants have already shown their high potential to provide useful tools against new human virus diseases. Plant biotechnology has developed over the last decade a sophisticated - yet useful, inexpensive, and easy to implement- technology which allows producing massive amounts, in just a few weeks, of the viral proteins required for the development of specific vaccines and new diagnostic procedures. Moreover, the viral proteins can be produced in plants in a form that closely resembles the real structure of the virus (virus-like particles, VLPs), thus providing non-infectious particles able to trigger the immune response more effectively. The new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has not been an exception for this technology.



This plant-based technology already showed its suitability about a decade ago, when the Canadian company Medicago announced the production of VLPs of the pandemic flu H1N1 (avian flu) just 19 days after the publication of the virus sequence. Other companies and research centers followed soon after, and a race to produce a permanent flu vaccine is already well advanced. For SARS-CoV-2 the events have been similar. On March, 13 Medicago announced the production of the coronavirus VLPs in plants, and the beginning of clinical trials as of July, depending on the speed of Canadian regulations. Others are moving in the same direction. For instance, the US company iBio’s announced last month a joint effort with Beijing-based CC-Pharming to develop a coronavirus vaccine in plants.



From the CBGP we wish to state that this technology could be exploited in Spain with not much effort, since several public research centers, including our center, and small companies are already using it at lesser scales.