'Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.'
A groundbreaking venture has been initiated by a group of researchers, whereby therapeutic proteins, essential in cancer-treatment, are mass-produced in the egg white of a certain breed of hen.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. It is a group of diseases that is characterized by differences in their types and locations. There is however one feature that is common to all cancers and that is the burgeoning cells that arise as a result of abnormal division. The mechanism that controls cell division goes awry and tumor results. Several factors are implicated in the causation of cancer like, hereditary factors, free radical formation, UV rays, tobacco etc. However, due to the overwhelming research related to the field of cancer and due to accelerated drug review, the survival rate of patients with cancer has significantly increased.
In this joint venture between the Roslin Institute, the US Biotech firm, Viragen, and the British Biotech Company, Oxford BioMedica, five hundred ISA Browns, a popular breed of egg-laying hens, were genetically modified to produce complex therapeutic proteins in commercially viable quantities. The gene for the specific protein is injected into the hen's DNA, specifically into that part that controls the production of egg white. Some of these genetically- engineered transgenic hens produced eggs whose whites contained proteins like the monoclonal antibody, m1r24, used in the treatment of melanoma, while other hens were engineered to produce a type of human interferon that impairs viral replication. These proteins may then be extracted from the egg whites to be incorporated into the making of drugs.
Insulin-related proteins have been mass-produced in bacteria. Many therapeutic proteins, like monoclonal antibodies, are produced commercially in industrial bioreactors. This method is time-consuming, besides being expensive. The use of the avian biosystem as bioreactors for the production of human biopharmaceuticals is cheaper, faster, more efficient, besides the raw material required being just 'bird feed'. It is believed that the first production line of the chicken eggs is only a few years away.
Prior attempts of this nature resulted in the production of low levels of the required proteins to be of any practical use. The present technique using 'hen factories' is believed to enable the production of a larger volume of a wider array of drugs, particularly those much-in-demand cancer drugs, at costs that are agreeable to all concerned.