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Washington farmers raise modified safflower for drug firm
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: October 10, 2006 05:50PM ; ;

Some northcentral Washington farmers have grown a genetically modified
safflower plant the past two years for a Canadian biotechnical
pharmaceutical company searching for a cheaper way to produce insulin,
October 2006.

Eventually, SemBioSys Genetics Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, hopes to raise
several thousand acres of genetically-modified-organism safflower, mainly to
meet what company officials believe will be a growing demand for insulin for
diabetics and possibly to produce anticancer and cardiovascular drugs.

The company announced in July that it had developed to ability to produce
insulin from GMO safflower seed for far less money than the traditional
method of producing synthetic insulin - genetic engineering of bacteria
grown in large steel bioreactors.

"We put a gene in the plant and eliminate steps in processing insulin. Our
technology has the ability to transform the economics of drug production,"
company president Andrew Baum said in a telephone interview with The
Wenatchee World last week.

Baum said the company can cut traditional production costs by up to 90
percent and meet the global demand for insulin on 10,000 to 20,000 acres of
GMO safflower.

Baum did not want to disclose which farms grew the GMO safflower because he
does not want opponents to destroy the crops, which were grown on 14 acres
in Douglas, Grant and Lincoln counties.

SemBioSys obtained permits from the U.S. and state agriculture departments
for production of GMO safflower and has to comply with tight regulations, he

GMO safflower cannot cross with wheat or other grains, though it can cross
with regular safflower. However, regular safflower isn't grown in
northcentral Washington, which makes it a good place for the genetically
modified version because there won't be any concern of cross-contamination,
Baum said.

This year's harvest went not for insulin, but for a protein genetically
introduced to the plant to be fed to farmed shrimp in South America. The
goal is to boost the shrimp's immune system and protect it from a virus,
said Rick Keon, the company's field regulatory affairs and planting
operations manager.

Next year, SemBioSys will have Washington farmers grow five to 15 acres of
safflower genetically modified to produce insulin that it hopes to have on
the market in 2010, following animal and human testing, Keon said. The first
crop will mainly be used to produce seed for later crops.

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