- Targeting the enormous international
epidemic in sexually transmitted diseases, researchers from The Johns Hopkins
University have successfully evaluated soybean-produced antibodies that
can prevent the spread of the genital herpes virus.
- At the moment, trials have been conducted
only with mice, but the scientists believe the so-called monoclonal antibodies
(MABs) could work particularly well as a cheap and efficient topical lubricant
for large-scale human populations in coming years.
- The findings are reported in the December
issue of the journal 'Nature Biotechnology.'
- Twenty years ago, scientists hailed MABs
as ìmagic bullets,î whose special properties would be particularly
effective in treating cancer. Although some anti-cancer antibodies were
finally approved in 1997, an increasing number of reports have identified
MABs grown in plants such as tobacco and soy as potentially effective in
preventing everything from gastrointestinal infections to tooth decay.
- Visions of genetically engineered soybean-
and tobacco-producing ìfields of pharmaceuticalsî now may
have advanced to the next stage of production. The Hopkins scientists speak
more distinctly about producing ìfields of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.î
- ìEverybody wants to lower their
manufacturing costs, but weíre talking about several orders of magnitude
of difference in thinking,î said Kevin Whaley, a Hopkins biophysicist
who is one of the authors of the report. ìRight now, people are
using the antibodies for therapeutic purposes, and it costs from $200 to
$1,000 a dose. We believe we can bring the costs for preventative applications
down to pennies per application. As a public health product, this will
be the biggest bang for the buck.î
- The creation of soy-based antibodies
actually occurred several years ago at Monsantoís Agracetus division
in Wisconsin and Protein Design Labs in Mountain View, Calif., Whaley said.
When the Hopkins scientists learned that the companies had only considered
MABsí potential in therapeutic medicines, they made arrangements
to collaborate on studies that focused precisely on more wide-ranging public
- Because of the success in soy, the scientists
have now turned their attention to producing even more effective antibodies
in corn, setting their sights on developing a topical lubricant that could
serve to prevent sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy.
- ìEventually, these microbicides
may merge contraceptive technology with STD technology and create the breakthrough
weíre hoping for in the field of reproductive health,î Whaley
said. ìAs costs go down, there will be the move to universal precautions,
just like washing your hands after you use the bathroom, brushing your
teeth after you eat, and having safe sex.î
- Toxicology studies will begin soon, Whaley
said, adding that he expects human trials to begin once the lubricant is
- Biophysicists at Hopkins are conducting
their research, in part, under a private initiative called ReProtect, a
company that has a research and development agreement with the university
to develop reproductive health technology. ReProtect of Baltimore, Protein
Design Labs of Mountain View, Calif., and Monsantoís Agracetus in
Middleton, Wis., contributed funding, resources or reagents to the project
described in this release. Since ReProtect may, in the future, profit from
commercial sales related to its research, the university manages its agreement
with the company in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.