Pharmaceuticals from agriculture: manufacture of discovery?

  • Turner M
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Agriculture competes with microbiology and experimental biochemistry as a resource for the discovery and synthesis of new drugs. In contrast, little of the benefit of legal manufacture returns to agriculture. Plants may lay claim to the input raw material in 25% of all prescriptions, but the safety, added value and efficacy of the drugs themselves are created by the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries. These industries often replace the agricultural input with material from petrochemical sources, and those which remain are either small in volume or are byproducts of a large volume process. High product costs reflect difficult purifications and extensive chemistry rather than a genuine agricultural value. Modern developments with transgenic animals and plants are unlikely to change this situation. Even where the pharmaceutical industry finds plants or large animals useful for the manufacture of some products, the production itself is likely to stay within the pharmaceutical industry, if only to ensure adequate standards of safety and hygiene. Moreover, the same techniques which allow the biosynthesis of some products to be transferred to plants and animals allow the transfer of others back to cells suitable for growth in fermenters, allowing the fine chemical industry to replace even more of the agricultural output which enters the pharmaceutical industry. © 1992.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Agricultural refinery
  • Diosgenin
  • Hecogenin
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Recombinant protein
  • Steroid
  • β-Sitosterol

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  • Michael K. Turner

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