Insulin produced from GMOs on the market soon?

Insulin produced from genetically modified plants (GMO) (plants in which a human gene has been assigned to a plant gene) could be soon on the market according to the statements made by a Canadian biotech company.

SemBioSys society, based in Calgary, announced in July 2006 to produce a molecule of insulin perfectly authentic and commercially viable from Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius). Insulin is extracted from the seeds of this plant.

Safflower "GMO" is now cultivated on a trial basis, in Chile, the United States and Canada. Culture is made "off season" to limit the risk spread in the environment of the introduced gene. Clinical trials were planned at the end of the year.

Existing commercial insulin production methods typically rely on yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) or bacteria (Escherichia coli) were genetically engineered to produce synthetic human insulin. These organisms are grown in large, steel bio-reactors and then insulin is extracted and purified for final formulation.

The demand for insulin will explode
The demand for insulin in the treatment of diabetes, according to SemBioSys, 6,000 kg, representing a market of 3.7 billion dollars. This application should reach 12,000 kg by 2012, since the number of people with diabetes is increasing dramatically. We hesitate to speak of more epidemic or even pandemic. Aging population, overweight, obesity and sedentary lifestyle are the main causes of this increase.

In addition, alternative methods of administration (inhalation, oral) also contribute to increased demand since 5 to 10 times more insulin is needed for a similar efficiency to the injection. But SemBioSys believes reducing the production costs by 40%.

This announcement raises serious criticism from associations and other anti-GMO. The risk of contaminating the food chain and impacts on the environment would be too large compared to the benefits provided.

BBC Health, Sembiosys


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