Molecular pharming in cereal crops

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There are many different agricultural expression systems that can be used for the large-scale production of recombinant proteins, but field-grown cereal crops are among the most attractive because recombinant proteins can be targeted to accumulate in the seed, and specifically in the endosperm, which has evolved naturally as a protein storage tissue. Within the developing endosperm, proteins are supplied with molecular chaperones and disulfide isomerases to facilitate folding and assembly, while the mature tissue is desiccated to prevent proteolytic degradation. Proteins expressed in cereal seeds can therefore remain stable for years in ambient conditions. Recent basic research has revealed a surprising diversity of protein targeting mechanisms in the endosperm, which can help to control post-translational modification and accumulation. Applied research and commercial development has seen several pharmaceutical proteins produced in cereals reach late stage preclinical development and the first clinical trials, with a number of companies now dedicated to developing cereal-based production platforms. In this review we discuss the basic science of molecular pharming in cereals, some of the lead product candidates, and challenges that remain to be addressed including the emerging regulatory framework for plant-made pharmaceuticals.

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