Re: DNA vaccines and pharmaceuticals

Anders Sandberg (
12 Dec 1997 13:30:08 +0100

Overall, I agree with the original poster that this is an interesting
and likely very useful technology, which will have large
implications. But I don't think his paranoia about the FDA and Big
Business hiding it is warranted, and while I think it may be good for
many developing countries it will not likely remove the pharmaceutical
gigants. writes:

>The new methods have the power to trash the entire pharmaceutical
>industry and put control in the hands of the "little guy".

How? While this method seems to avoid many of the current problems
with vaccines and may be much cheaper, I seriously don't think the
pharmaceutical industry will be much changed by it (se
below). Besides, vaccines are just a minor part of the industry - what
would really trash it would be remedies against common ailments
anybody could cook, with no ability to patent them).

>Theoretically, it could be applied
>to every situation where a protein is needed. Injection of a gene into
>muscle tissue could not only lead to antigen production but also make
>the host tissue produce a naturally occurring hormone such as human
>growth hormone.

You are mixing it up with gene therapy. DNA based immunization is
based on that a few cells will produce antigens, which stimulates the
immune system to seek out the real virus. For gene therapy you need
much larger amounts than that. Scaling up the effect is highly
nontrivial, as the gene therapy people are realizing.

> Eventually, there may be small PC-size
>machines that at the cost of a desktop computer can function as a
>complete pharmaceutical production facility. They can be connected to
>the Net and able to churn out any kind of nucleic acid /
>pharmaceutical at almost zero cost. Needless to say, this
>decentralization threatens the power of the
>pharmaceutical giants and their multibillion-dollar protein

No. Guess who will sell the machines? The software? Who will own the
patents of the genes you download? (would you seriously want to
download a shareware gene?).

In the long run I agree with you, the huge pharmaceutical companies
will disappear. But they will become software gigants instead, doing
the research and development for the software you run in your own
medi-PC. It may be pay-for-use: you are debited for the plasmids you
order it to produce (or other pharmaceuticals; Greg Egan had a
believable such device in his book _Distress_).

According to the FAQ ( there is
also a patent for the process:

Who owns the patents to DNA vaccination?

This question began to be answered on December 2nd, 1996 when
it was announced that Vical, Inc. had been awarded a United
States patent covering the use of a "DNA sequence... free from
association with transfection-facilitating proteins, viral
particles, liposomal formulations, charged lipids and calcium
phosphate precipitating agents"

(Although there may be prior art.)

> It is vastly cheaper than the conventional method that
>relies on proteins. Nucleic acids donít have to be refrigerated and
>can be stored without solution.

Is this true? I seem to recall that while they are fairly stable, they
tend to break up anyway.

What worries me a bit is the safety of this procedure. How well has it
been studied?

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y