Partnership between PlantForm and Guelph University for biosimilar trastuzumab

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Canada-based PlantForm Corporation (PlantForm) announced on 3 March 2016 that it had been awarded a Collaborative Research and Development Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

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The grant was awarded to the research partnership between PlantForm and Dr Mike Dixon, Director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF) at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

PlantForm have already genetically modified tobacco plants to create a candidate biosimilar version of Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) using technology licensed from the University of Guelph, where the technology was developed by Dr J Christopher Hall, the Canada Research Chair in Recombinant Antibody Technology [1]. Using plant cells to produce biosimilars is simpler (plant biology is well-known by scientists) and more cost-effective than producing them in animal cells, which is complicated and expensive.

The grant from NSERC amounts to CA$300,000 as well as cash and in-kind contributions from PlantForm totalling CA$378,000. This will fund a three-year project to examine how environmental growing conditions and a range of other variables affect the yield and quality of therapeutic proteins produced by tobacco plants in PlantForm’s vivoXPRESS biopharmaceutical manufacturing system. The project aims to further optimize the plant-based manufacturing platform, with a specific focus on the partnership’s lead biosimilar candidate trastuzumab.

Trastuzumab is a monoclonal antibody that interferes with the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)/neu receptor. In some cancers, notably certain types of breast cancer, HER2 is overexpressed, and causes cancer cells to reproduce uncontrollably. Trastuzumab is therefore used to treat certain breast cancers.

The originator biological, Herceptin, had 2014 worldwide sales of CHF 6.3 billion (US$6.2 billion).

Plantform also made an agreement with Brazil-based biopharmaceuticals technology platform PharmaPraxis in June 2014 to develop a biosimilar of Roche’s blockbuster cancer drug Avastin (bevacizumab) [2].

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1. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Biosimilar trastuzumab made in tobacco plants []. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2016 Apr 1]. Available from:

2. GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. More biosimilars collaborations on the cards []. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2016 Apr 1]. Available from:

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