By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A California company that uses a hybrid form of tobacco to "grow" potentially useful medications has acquired the rights to a potential heart drug developed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
In mouse studies, the drug lysosomial acid lipase (LAL) has shown promising ability to fight artery-blocking plaque build-up in animals fed high-fat diets, according to a study co-authored by Dr. Greg Grabowski, director of human genetics at Cincinnati Children's
Now, Large Scale Biology Corp., a publicly traded biotech firm based in Vacaville, Calif., has acquired rights to the substance to pursue further development as a drug that might be used in people with heart disease. Financial details were not disclosed.
The company has attracted headlines in recent years for developing a method of growing human proteins in genetically modified tobacco plants. It already has grown plants containing potential vaccines for AIDS and cervical cancer, and a potential drug for pets.
While some products have reached early stage testing in humans, none of the tobacco-grown medications has reached market.
Initial work on the drug from Cincinnati Children's would involve plants grown in greenhouses in California. Should testing prove successful, "production-scale" quantities of the special tobacco plants would be grown at a farm and production facility in Owensboro, Ky., company officials said.
The hybrid tobacco the company uses - Nicotiana excelsiana - is not a type used for smoking products, said Dr. John Chute, vice president of medical affairs for the company.
The company prefers the tobacco plant because it can grow quickly and because human proteins can be linked to a virus that affects tobacco plants.
In a previous project, a 5-foot-by-5-foot patch of tobacco plants was enough to produce several doses of a potential cancer vaccine. A single acre could be enough for an early-stage clinical trial, Chute said.
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