The Scalability of Plant Based Medicines

Plant-Based Pharmaceuticals Offer Scalable Medicine to Developing Nations

High therapeutic and logistical costs are just two of the major roadblocks facing developing nations as they vie for access to modern medicine. The drugs themselves are expensive and the costly infrastructure needed to store and distribute them only complicates the issue. 

This is why plant-made biologics have become such an attractive option for these communities that struggle to afford traditional biologic medicines. Experts agree that a cleaner, more cost-effective system for producing pharmaceuticals would irrefutably improve the health of the world’s poor. 

“Plant-based expression systems offer many potential advantages over traditional systems, including safety, speed, versatility, scalability and cost.” – Andrew G. Diamos Ph.D., et al.1 

Unlike many other aspects of world health, this issue is refreshingly simple. We can improve access to pharmaceutical drugs by reducing the capital expenditures that go into producing them. 

Scientists have known for decades that, in theory, pharmaceutical molecules could be harvested from plants. Today, we at ZEA have the technology to put that theory into practice. Plant biologics are, as Cornell University’s Dr. Kathleen Hefferon2 puts it, “safe, efficacious, and easy to mass produce.” Given the right technology, developing nations will finally have the tools to sustain their own pharmaceutical production platforms. 

Plants biosystems, unlike machines, are affordable and easy to scale up. They don’t require fermentation and refrigeration, which makes them both cost and resource efficient. Reduced safety concerns also make testing plant-based pharmaceuticals less time-consuming than mammalian cell-based drugs. Since many of the health concerns that accompany animal cells are not shared by plants, clinical trials for plant biologics are less expensive and intensive. This means that a plant-made vaccine, for example, would be on the market much faster.

Researchers have deduced that several of the diseases that would be best addressed by plant-based treatments are tropical diseases

Especially those that disproportionately affect developing nations such as malaria, dengue fever, zika fever and chikungunya fever. African plant scientist and biotechnology expert PKA Bamogo3 writes, “Plant viral expression vectors have been reported in the production of therapeutics against diseases occurring exclusively in the third world… Least developed countries encounter major health problems that are difficult to solve mainly for economic reasons, such as medicine acquisition and logistic organization.”

Neglected diseases affecting these “least developed nations” are mostly treatable, and the only thing keeping patients from the medicine they need is high per-dose costs. Ebola and HIV, for example, are diseases for which plant-based treatments have been studied. They are also diseases that have devastated large swaths of the developing world. Plant-made biologics make economic sense for these communities, and they also happen to address the diseases that affect them most acutely.

It could not be more clear that a plant-based production system is what’s needed to bring scalable biologic medicine to the world. Plant bioreactor technology has the potential to solve health problems that have plagued impoverished communities for decades and even centuries. Given the substantial technological advances that has been made in recent years, the time has come to begin seriously planning the implementation of industrial-scale growth facilities in developing nations. Current methods of production are no longer viable, it’s time to build a better process guided by nature. It’s time to bring wellness to the world. 

Thanks for reading,

ZEA Biosciences 


  1. Diamos, Andrew G, and Hugh S Mason. “Modifying the Replication of Geminiviral Vectors Reduces Cell Death and Enhances Expression of Biopharmaceutical Proteins in Nicotiana benthamiana Leaves.” Frontiers in plant science vol. 9 1974. 9 Jan. 2019
  2. Hefferon Kathleen, Plant derived Pharmaceuticals for Developing Countries. 8th Annual NYS Biotechnology Symposium. Published 2016. May 19 & 20.
  3. Bamogo PKA, Brugidou C, Sérémé D, et al. Virus-based pharmaceutical production in plants: an opportunity to reduce health problems in Africa. Virol J. 2019;(1) 167. Published 2019 Dec 30. 
  4. Ma Jk, Christou P, Chikwamba R, Haydon H, Paul M, Ferrer MP, Ramalingam S, Rech E, Rybicki E, Wigdorovitz A, Yang DC, Thangaraj H. Realizing the value of plant molecular pharming to benefit the poor in developing countries and emerging economies. Plant Biotechnology J. 2013 Dec 11.