"For centuries people have used plants for healing," said Ilya Raskin, Phytomedics co-founder and professor of plant science at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "The 20th century gave us the 'pill option,' which diminished the historical connection between plants and disease treatment, but now, plants are poised for a comeback as sources of human health products."
Phytomedics is a Dayton, N.J.-based life sciences company that grew out of the laboratories and greenhouses at Rutgers. It focuses on human health care and plant biotechnology with the goal of discovering, developing and manufacturing new plant-based pharmaceuticals, botanical drugs and other related products. It is funded by private investors and the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. Phytomedics is currently taking a series of botanical drug candidates through clinical and preclinical development. It is also engaged in the manufacture of novel therapeutic proteins in plants. To date, Rutgers has received more than $2 million in grant funding from Phytomedics.
"The new grant from Phytomedics validates Rutgers' efforts to promote commercial ventures through the transfer of technologies produced by university research," said Joseph J. Seneca, university vice president for academic affairs. "These funds will support research and student training while promoting economic development in New Jersey through new business creation and the expansion of agriculture into new and potentially more profitable areas."
Through a comprehensive research and licensing agreement with Rutgers, the results of the funded research are exclusively licensed to Phytomedics for commercial development and relicensing.
Research in botanical therapeutics may add more value to world agriculture than the more conventional application of plant biotechnology for yield enhancement, explained Raskin. "Plants are by far the most abundant and cost-effective renewable resource uniquely adapted to complex biochemical synthesis," he said. "The increasing cost of energy and chemical raw materials, combined with the environmental concerns associated with conventional pharmaceutical manufacturing, will make plants even more desirable as sources for therapeutic agents in the future."
New Jersey farmers who can adapt to growing crops for health, rather than calories can be expected to profit from greater margins and higher values enjoyed by the health industry. Several New Jersey farmers are already growing plants containing botanical therapeutics developed in Raskin's laboratory.