Genetically Engineered Chickens Lay Cancer-Fighting Eggs

The approach could eventually cut by 90 percent the cost of producing an important cancer-fighting agent called interferon beta.

Japanese researchers have found a novel way to dramatically slash the cost of manufacturing a pricey drug used to treat cancer and hepatitis: by genetically programing chickens to lay drug-infused eggs.

The technique uses genomic editing to prompt the chickens to lay eggs containing a pharmaceutical agent known as interferon beta, a type of protein that plays an important role in the functioning immune system, according to a report in The Japan News.

The scientists introduced genes that produce interferon beta into cells that are the precursors of chicken sperm, the Japanese outlet reported. Those cells were used to fertilize eggs, which then inherited those genes. That allowed the hens grown from those eggs to themselves lay eggs containing the cancer-fighting agent.

“This is a result that we hope leads to the development of cheap drugs,” Hironobu Hojo of Osaka University said.

For now, the cancer-fighting eggs are to be used solely in a laboratory setting. But eventually, if the chicken-laid drugs pass inspection by health authorities, they could be approved for human consumption.

“In the future, it will be necessary to closely examine the characteristics of the agents contained in the eggs and determine their safety as pharmaceutical products,” Professor Hojo said.

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As early as next year, the drug produced by the chickens may begin to be sold at a price about half that of the conventional means of production. Eventually, the scientists hope to reduce the price to under a tenth of the conventional method.

Conventional production requires large-scale cultivation facilities and costs roughly $250-$900 for just a few micrograms of the substance.

Three hens are presently laying the drug-infused eggs at a rate of about one a day, or one every other day. The technique was developed by researchers at the state-owned National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Osaka.

Interferon beta is used in the treatment of malignant skin cancer and hepatitis, as well as for virus research.

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