We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Healthy Snacks

Vaccines you eat will make immunization less painful and more accessible worldwide.

Taking the kids to the doctor can be a battle, especially when they need a shot. But soon children and adults alike could receive vaccines from corn puffs or a jar of baby food.

Edible vaccines grown in corn, bananas or tomatoes could not only make vaccination more convenient in wealthier countries but help global immunization efforts (see “Making Needles Needless,” TR September/October 1998). Barriers to immunization in poor countries include the cost of vaccines and needles, lack of health-care workers and difficulty in refrigerating the doses. Hepatitis B vaccine, which costs 50 cents for each dose, remains out of reach for many of the world’s poor; over 900,000 people die each year from hepatitis B. Producing the vaccine in plants could reduce the cost to less than a penny per dose. And simple food processing like drying and grinding could create nonperishable preparations.

ProdiGene, based in College Station, TX, is working to bring edible vaccines to the marketplace. ProdiGene creates its vaccines by genetically engineering corn to produce bacterial or viral proteins that elicit immune responses when eaten. Last year, the company received a patent covering any viral vaccine produced in any plant. ProdiGene has also filed patents on edible bacterial vaccines, says chief scientific officer John Howard. The company plans to test an E. coli vaccine in humans this year and hopes to do the same for a hepatitis B vaccine early next year.

Lead inventor on the patent is Charles Arntzen, a plant molecular biologist who originated the idea of plant-grown vaccines a decade ago at Texas A&M University. Arntzen, now at Arizona State University, is not affiliated with ProdiGene; the company bought rights to the technology from Texas A&M. Arntzen says the ProdiGene work is interesting, but points out there are other tacks. “Since there is a potential for at least a hundred different vaccines for different viruses, I would expect that there’s not going to be any single technology approach. It’s really going to be disease specific; it’s going to be specific for the population that you’re trying to immunize,” Arntzen says.

Indeed, three separate patents covering edible vaccines issued in 1997 to Washington University in St. Louis are now licensed to Dow AgroSciences. But David Wheat, an analyst at the Boston-based Bowditch Group, says ProdiGene is in a good position. “ProdiGene is reputed to have made sure to have good, tight access to all of the intellectual property they need. They will be able to practice this technology without roadblocks from other companies,” he says.

While a number of academic groups are developing edible vaccines for humans, ProdiGene is the only company pushing ahead with human clinical trials. “We believe that the opportunities are tremendous,” says Howard. “We also know there’s other people looking at it, and what we’d like to do is work with all those other people. We would like to see above all the technology go forward.”

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.