Farms have always provided a steady supply of milk, cheese and meat. Now add medicine to the list. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first medication produced in genetically modified livestock--ATryn,
an anticoagulant grown in goats--and now several drug companies have launched their own animal-made medications. The drugs work as well as the ones synthesized in labs; only the process of making them is different. Scientists insert a human gene for a medically useful, protein into an animal embryo's DNA and place the embryo in a surrogate mother. Once the animal matures, a technician can extract the protein from its milk in greater quantities than can be produced in lab.
Raising a goat is far easier than standard methods of creating protein-based medicines, such as growing batches of altered cells or pulling proteins from donated human blood. It's also cost-effective. William Heiden, the CEO of GTC Biotherapeutics, the makers of ATryn, says that running a farm instead of building a dedicated production line saves his company hundreds of millions of dollars. And scaling up production is as easy as letting the animals mate. Some scientists warn that transgenic animals could introduce modified DNA into other herds, but these livestock could also drastically cut the prices of lifesaving drugs. Here, a look into a "pharmer's" medicine cabinet.
GOATS RABBITS DRUG ATryn (recombinant Rhucin, a drug for the 1 antithrombin), an in 30,000 people afflicted anticoagulant drug taken with hereditary by some of the sufferers angioedema, a condition in of clotting disorders, which the immune system which affect up to 1 in causes painful swelling of 2,000 people the skin, intestines and mouth. Also in tests for reducing post-transplant organ inflammation ANIMAL Efficiency. By the time a Speed. Because Rhucin is ADVANTAGE transgenic goat is 18 injected directly into the months old, it can bloodstream, it can be produce 211 gallons of administered in lower ATryn-laced milk a year. doses. Quick-breeding, Cows can churn out more, inexpensive rabbits that but they take twice as provide 1,680 milligrams a long to reach milk- day in their milk can producing age. easily meet demand. STATUS FDA-approved and Dutch company Pharming available now from GTC recently finished clinical Biotherapeutics trials in Europe and expects approval there this month. COWS PIGS DRUG Biohormon, a synthetic Human factor (HF) VIII and version of human growth IX, the main treatments hormone for hemophilia A and B, which affect 1 in 4,000 and 1 in 20,000 men, respectively, worldwide ANIMAL Volume. Demand for HGH is Compatibility. Pigs' ADVANTAGE high, and multiple daily biochemistry is nearly injections are the norm. identical to humans, so Cows produce the greatest the proteins they produce volume of milk of any are less likely to be transgenic livestock: A rejected. Pigs make up to Biohormon cow can make 26 50 times as much HFIX per grams of HGH per gallon of gallon of milk as is milk. usually found in human blood, and perhaps 600 times as much HFVIII. STATUS Argentinean company Bio HFIX is in preclinical Sidus is starting clinical animal trials led by the trials as soon as this University of Nebraska. winter. HFVIII preclinical trials could start next year.