At an accelerated rate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, academic and corporate scientists are using genetic engineering techniques to reprogram plants to produce significant concentrations of high-value pharmaceuticals. The concept is not new. Many common medicines, such as certain opiates, the laxative Metamucil, and the anti-cancer drug Taxol, are all purified from plants, and efficacy has been shown for some herbals in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There is great potential for cost-cutting in the process: The energy for product synthesis comes from the sun, and the primary raw materials are water and carbon dioxide. In addition, biopharming offers tremendous flexibility and economy when adjustments in production are necessary. The need for inexpensive, flexible production techniques for COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines could be a potent stimulus to biopharming research and development.
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