Down on the pharm: pharmaceutical companies turn genetically modified livestock into drug factories

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Date: Sept. 2010
From: Popular Science(Vol. 277, Issue 3)
Publisher: Bonnier Corporation
Document Type: Article
Length: 219 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1180L

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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.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A234789808