Professor Julian Ma, Dr. Pascal Drake and Dr. Audrey Teh are developing novel biologic solutions in plants to combat global infectious diseases and cancer.
The Hotung Molecular Immunuology Unit has long-standing international collaborations in the prevention and/or treatment of HIV, rabies, chikungunya, dengue, tuberculosis, Gram-negative pathogens and cancer.
For our work on HIV, we are exploring the potential of new HIV neutralizing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) for systemic administration to women in the peri-natal period. Transmission of virus from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding is common, but can be reduced with anti-retroviral drug interventions. However, despite the relative success of drugs in preventing mother-to-child transmission, late presentation of pregnant women with HIV at maternity clinics, poor compliance of mother taking prescribed medicines and the emergence of drug resistant strains of HIV are significant barriers to elimination for new paediatric HIV infections.
Since 2003, we have been developing plant manufacturing platforms for mAbs against HIV. Plants offer an affordable, rapid and highly scalable manufacturing solution that is well suited to addressing emerging epidemics and infectious diseases in developing regions.
We demonstrated that plant-derived mAbs can be produced at pharmaceutical-grade quality and that they are safe to administer to patients. A current research focus is to develop a combination of HIV broadly neutralizing mAbs in plants, to assess their potential as prophylactic immunotherapy for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Such antibody products could be used in late pregnancy to rapidly reduce viral load and would help to address the urgent need to develop alternative drugs for HIV prevention.