According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, more than 36 million people worldwide are living with HIV. While the number of AIDS-related deaths is decreasing, infection rates are still increasing—specifically in eastern and southern Africa. HIV microbicides are not currently sold commercially, and many other HIV prevention techniques remain unavailable or implausible in developing countries where the disease is most prevalent.
Those living in resource-poor areas would benefit from a low-cost, effective method of protecting HIV microbicides. Microbicides offer HIV prevention, whereas therapeutic vaccines are administered only following infection. Microbicides also have highefficacy, provide quick protection, and require no treatment preparation.
The National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Molecular Targets Laboratory partnered with the Frederick National Laboratory and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) to develop a low-cost method for producing an effective and safe HIV infection treatment. The researchers demonstrated that soya bean seeds can produce cyanovirin-N (CV-N), a protein capable of permanently inactivating HIV strains and preventing infection. Historically, scientists produced the CV-N protein in a bacterial (Escherichia coli) expression system. However, due to a high cost, this method is not a viable option for large-scale production of the protein. Genetically modified soya beans provide a scalable, low-cost method of producing microbicides that protect against the transmission of HIV and prevent AIDS. The soybean-produced CV-N is now being developed into a microbicide gel in a collaboration between NCI, the University of London, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR Biosciences) in South Africa, and EMBRAPA, a technological innovation enterprise focused on generating knowledge and technology for Brazilian agriculture. The groups hope to provide the microbicide gel to Africa, Brazil, and other developing countries where HIV transmission is a public health priority.
The soya bean production method could allow for a low-cost, effective method for preventing HIV. The production technique is sustainable for resource-poor countries where HIV and AIDS are rapidly spreading. The importance of NCI’s collaborative strategy was highlighted by the journal Science, which featured the production of CV-N in soy in the “Editor’s Choice” section of the February 13, 2015, issue. In this report, the achievement of the NCI/EMBRAPA/ CSIR collaboration was singled out as a significant advance in the production of biopharmaceuticals in plants.
Dr. Michael Boyd
Dr. Michael Currens
Dr. Bjarne Gabrielsen
Dr. James McMahon
Dr. Rachel Chikwamba
Dr. Elibio Rech
Contact: Dr. Barry O’Keefe, (301) 846-5332, [email protected]