Yes, I know that post title should have been followed by ‘sic‘ in brackets. I can spell fine but before ‘pharming‘ was cruelly hijacked by ‘phishers’, it used to imply a combination of the agricultural methods with advanced biotechnology. This involves insertion, into plants and animals, of genetic material that would code for useful drug products, which can then either be purified or just consumed directly.

A well-known example of such GE* food products is of course Golden Rice. Golden Rice is created to deliver Vitamin A, the deficiency of which causes night blindness, common in developing countries. Its health benefits notwithstanding, Golden Rice has attracted a lot of criticism from anti-globalisation and environmental activists. If the science were to be considered, separate from the argument surrounding private profits and patent ownerships, or political will, it is a good illustration of what can be achieved with technology.

The promise of the technology made way for European funding to explore the development of vaccines and drugs for HIV, rabies and tuberculosis.

Today it is reported that Sembiosys, a Canadian firm, has developed a safflower variety, with human genetic material added, that can deliver insulin. Unlike bacterially-produced insulin, these plants needn’t be kept in sealed areas but can be grown in open spaces. Trial planting has been done in Chile, the US and Canada.

Although the number of Type-I or insulin-dependent diabetics is smaller (5-15% of all diabetics) than those with Type-II or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, the market is still considerable. The incidence of Type-I was commonly associated with age but in recent years, a huge growth has been seen in children. Much as this is no cause for joy as a society, it still means that demand for insulin will grow.

The regulatory loop of bio-equivalence to human insulin of course yet needs to be cleared, if the firm is to have hopes of large scale commercialisation, and large scale profits.

As block-buster drugs become more elusive, new methods of production and delivery of drugs will gain importance. Since food is essential, what can be better to deliver essential drugs and ensure enhanced compliance?

* GE (genetically engineered) is technically the correct term for what we commonly call GM (genetically modified) in food context.

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