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Mississippi Takes on Tobacco-based High-Volume Antibody Expression 4/14/04

Wed, 04/14/2004 - 10:57am
A five-year agreement between Mississippi State University (MSU), Starkville, Miss., and Toxin Alert Inc., Toronto, Canada, plans to provide research funding to the university for the development of large-scale antibody production in tobacco plants. Students in MSU's newly created Proteomics Group, which is part of the school's Life Science and Biology Institute, plan to also research ways to incorporate Toxin Alert's proteins in a therapeutic diagnostic program, says T. Edward Petroff, PhD, executive vice president of Toxin Alert.

The agreement is the second of its kind to offer funding for young scientists to receive hands-on training. Toxin Alert has been providing funding to the University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada, for a number of years, Petroff says. It will be the research students' job to come up with ways to develop "commercially viable growing and extraction methods to produce antibodies and other proteins from plants," Petroff says.

"This agreement is a wonderful example of public and private cooperation in the development of science and technology which will be very important to general public health, both in the United States and Canada, and worldwide," Petroff says. Toxin Alert, which calls its antibodies "plantibodies," sells a product known as Toxin Guard that detects "the presence of foodborne pathogens such as Listeria and E. coli in food," Petroff says.

The company is also talking to the US Army about using the material to detect anthrax and other pathogens, Petroff says. The agreement with MSU provides a US-based manufacturing center for the antibodies, a requirement for any deal with the Army, says Petroff. Toxin Alert needs kilogram quantities of antibodies, Petroff says, an amount far greater than the current worldwide production, which is in the tens of grams range. "And we will need at least 200 kilograms of antibodies to make this work."

The person who brought the two parties together is Toxin Alert's CEO Mike Espy, who served as Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton Administration. Espy grew up in Mississippi and thought the university and his company would be a "good fit,' Petroff says.

- Robert Ford

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