growing a cure
Houston-area company is harvesting plant technology for treatment of chronic diseases and COVID-19
The original version of this story included some factual inaccuracies due to misinformation from a source. The story below has been corrected.
In a 130,000 square-foot facility outside of Bryan-College Station, iBio is growing the makings of new types of therapeutics for fibrosis, cancer, and even COVID-19.
The company, which moved its headquarters from New York to Texas in July, uses novel biopharma methods to produce the vital molecules and antigens used for vaccines and other types of medical treatments through plants in a fast, sustainable way.
Other methods of creating biopharmaceutical require scientists to engineer cells to create a desired protein, which can be one of the most time consuming parts of the process, IBio's CEO Tom Isett explains. However, through iBio's FastPharming method, the team let's the plants do most of the work.
IBio introduces an Agrobacterium carrying a desired gene to manipulate the plant's DNA.
"[The bacteria] takes over the machinery of the plant leaves and it then produces the protein of interest or the biopharmaceutical that we were going to want to make for people," Isett says.
IBio then harvests the leaves and purifies the proteins to make the biopharmaceutical of interest. The entire process can save anywhere from six to 18 months in development, he estimates.
Too, if there's demand for more of the product, through this process, all scientists need to do is grow more plants.
"We have a linear scale up, it's very straightforward," says Peter Kipp, iBio's VP of translational science and alliance management. "And using some of the other competing methodologies, as you go to a bigger scale, you have new technical problems that you have to solve, but we don't."
The team discovered that an Australian species of the tobacco plant could be one of their biggest conduits in their process.
"It just grows like a weed. And that's why we like it," Kipp says.
The plant expends most of its energy in creating its leaves, where IBio extracts most of its proteins from. The plants are grown in the company's indoor, vertical hydroponic facility and are able to be harvested about every six weeks, and (it's important to note) does not contain nicotine.
IBio used their FastPharming process to introduce two vaccine candidates and a therapeutic in about six week's time. However, Isett says they're not just a COVID-19 vaccine company.
"We're mostly focused in other areas. But when [COVID] showed up, we did want to go in and see if we could address it using the speed of our system," he says.