Genetically modified chicken’s eggs offer potential for cheaper drug production

30 January 2019

Searchers at the University of Edinburgh have genetically modified chickens so they lay eggs containing human proteins, which could subsequently be used as drugs. This new method for drug production is said to be cheaper compared to manufacturing in factories.

During their study, the team observed that the new type of drugs worked similarly to the proteins produced using existing methods. They noted that high quantities of the proteins could be recovered from each egg using a simple purification system. The researchers hope that the drugs might be able to be used in patients in the future.

“We are not yet producing medicines for people, but this study shows that chickens are commercially viable for producing proteins suitable for drug discovery studies and other applications in biotechnology,” said Helen Sang, a professor involved in the research.

This new method involves genetic modification of a chicken to encode therapeutic proteins in its DNA. The drugs are then produced as part of the egg white.

Eggs have been used previously for growing viruses that are used as vaccines. Previously, it has also been demonstrated that genetically modified goats, rabbits and chickens can be used to produce protein therapies in their milk or eggs.

Researchers claim that their new approach is more efficient and produces better yield compared to these older techniques. They found that three eggs were sufficient to produce a clinically relevant dose of the drug, and chickens can lay up to 300 eggs per year. With enough chickens, the new approach offers a more cost-effective solution than other production methods.

The researchers initially focused on two proteins, IFNalpha2a and macrophage-CSF, both of which are considered essential to the immune system. IFNalpha2a has antiviral and anti-cancer effects, while macrophage-CSF is currently being developed as a therapy that triggers damaged tissues to self-repair.

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