Edible Vaccines – A Research Area Waiting to Explode

Published on 13 Mar, 2014


  • Ease of administration and patient compliant due to oral delivery
  • No requirement of sterile conditions for storing vaccines
  • Elimination of contamination risk with animal pathogens
  • Economical in production, easy production scale up and lower cost of product compared with conventional vaccines
  • Heat stable and eliminates the need for refrigeration
  • Delivery of multiple antigens is possible
  • Plant-derived antigens assemble spontaneously into oligomers and virus-like particles


  • High probability of development of immune tolerance
  • Consistency of dosage form varies according to the type of plant and generation
  • Dose evaluation is tedious
  • Cooking plants such as potato with vaccine properties might weaken its strength

Figure 1: Filing Trend

Edible Vaccines Patent Filing Trend

Source: (Aranca Analysis based on Thomson Innovation data)

Edible vaccine technology is a niche domain with limited patent filings over the last five years. Patent filing has remained almost constant. This could be attributed to lack of investor confidence in return on investments on genetically modified foods. In addition, at present, recombinant vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and others are very economical; thus, there would be little incentive to develop edible vaccines for these diseases.

Most edible vaccines researched by leading companies are in the clinical trial stage; thus, the success of edible vaccines cannot be established. However, a breakthrough edible vaccine would not only increase research activity in the edible vaccine domain but also enhance licensing between vaccine innovators and leading pharmaceutical/biotechnology companies, primarily due to manufacturing ease, patient compliance and lower cost of the product.

Figure 2: Origin of Invention & Jurisdiction Spread

Origin of Invention Edible Vaccines

Source: (Aranca Analysis based on Thomson Innovation data)

Most studies on edible vaccines have been undertaken in China, the US and Europe. This could be attributed to the fact that these countries have been pioneers in pharmaceutical and biotechnological sciences.

Figure 3: Competitive Landscape

Competitive Landscape for Edible Vaccines patent

Source: (Aranca Analysis based on Thomson Innovation data)

The majority of the studies on edible vaccines are conducted by food and biotechnology companies, with AC Immune being the top researcher. The research focus of most patents is to develop safe and effective edible vaccines, whose dosage do not change for different types of fruits and generations. In addition, the research is focused towards modifying plants that are edible in the raw state and do not require cooking, such as banana and tomato. Therapeutic areas that are of high interest for the development of edible vaccines include diseases like diarrhoea, malaria, cholera, measles, rabies and hepatitis B. Moreover, edible vaccines are being developed for animals such as rabbits, pigs and cows. Furthermore, edible vaccine technology is being analysed for passive immunisation, wherein crops are genetically modified to deliver antibodies to the target species.

About Edible Vaccines

About Edible Vaccines

Edible vaccines are antigenic proteins incorporated in consumable crops using genetic engineering. An immune response against a specific pathogen is elicited when the digestion of a plant with antigenic proteins in the GIT leads to release and absorption of these proteins into the blood stream, thereby stimulating humoral and mucosal immunity. Edible vaccines were first experimented in 1990 when Curtiss and Cardineau expressed the Streptococcus mutants surface protein antigen A (SpaA) in tobacco. However, the first edible vaccine to enter clinical trials was in 1997. A vaccine-containing potato was developed by the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research to protect against travellers’ diarrhoea.

Most of the earlier studies on edible vaccines were performed on tobacco, a non-edible plant. However, current researches are focused on developing edible vaccines based on lettuce, tomato, potato and banana. Plants like banana and tomato remains are considered a preferred choice of crops since they need not necessarily be cooked and can be consumed raw.