BRIC Nations Fuel the Biopharma Revolution


For the last few years, global pharmaceutical industry watchers have enjoyed using the acronym “BRIC” to describe the emerging markets of research in Brazil, Russia, India and China. However, with data this week showing that Brazil is now the 6th largest pharmaceutical provider in the world, ’emerging’ maybe a somewhat fallacious term for this country. Brazil is not just a young sheep following in the footsteps of more-experienced nations though; plans revealed this week show that Brazil is breaking new ground in its quest for pharmaceuticals generated from plant cell technology.

Growth in the pharma industry in Brazil is huge, but it’s growth potential is even larger still. Big pharma have realised this and giants such as Pfizer, GSK, Sanofi and Amgen have all started investing in and/or partnering up with local institutions in a dual-pronged attack to raise their profile in the area and to also get a profitable piece of the action.

Interesting, though, is the fact that 45% of all medicines prescribed in Brazil are generated from plant cell technology. This circumstance has led to a joint research collaboration between the Brazilian Government-owned Fiocruz (an immunological research company), Protalix (an Israeli biotechnology company), The Fraunhofer Centre (an American Biotechnology research company) and iBio Inc (an American leader in plant technology). These companies and research institutes are coming together to build Brazil’s first national factory for the organic production of pharmaceuticals from plant cell technology.

Here, plants from the humble carrot to the exotic lotus will be stripped bare and searched for potential drug research opportunities. Existing compounds will be revisited to see if their benefits can be felt in other therapeutic areas and new compounds will be synthesised from fresh discoveries. Due for completion in 2016, some of the early research work is tipped to be centered around Gaucher disease (a very serious genetic disease that causes sufferers to form deposits of lipids in their cells and around certain organs) and the development of the world’s first vaccine for yellow fever developed from plant technology.

Developing drugs from plants has been proved time and time again to be safer than producing them from viruses and bacteria. Biotechnological advancements over the last decade have also made it easier for us to chemically synthesize interesting plant compounds and then manipulate in the lab for an enhanced effect. Historically, plants have been used in medicine for centuries and many drugs that are taken on a routine basis all over the world have their humble beginnings within a plant. Acetyldigoxin, the compound from the Digitalis (foxglove) family is used in the treatment of several heart conditions for example and there are many others such as aescin (an anti-inflammatory developed from horse chestnuts) and taxol (an antitumour agent developed from the yew tree).

Biopharmaceutical research is massively exciting stuff; if this blog post has whetted your appetite, click here for more info:


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