The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) Kansai in Osaka Prefecture has succeeded in making hens lay eggs that contain a pharmaceutical agent that can be used to treat such diseases as cancer and hepatitis, it has been learned.
The procedure uses genome editing technology to produce interferon beta, a type of protein related to the immune system, at a relatively low cost.
As early as next year, a joint research company plans to sell the drug as a research reagent at a price about half that of the conventional product. Eventually, they hope to lower the price to less than 10 percent of the current level.
Interferon beta is used in the treatment of malignant skin cancer and hepatitis, as well as for virus research.
Conventional production requires large-scale cultivation facilities, and it costs from ¥30,000 to ¥100,000 to produce a unit of the substance weighing a few micrograms.
A research team consisting of AIST Kansai, the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Ibaraki Prefecture and the reagent import and sales firm Cosmo Bio Co. in Tokyo developed the method.
First, they introduce genes that produce interferon beta via genome editing technology into cells that are precursors of chicken sperm. The cells are used to fertilize eggs that produce male chicks.
The hatched male chicks are crossbred with several females to rear chickens with the inherited genes.
In late July at the company’s breeding facility in Otaru, Hokkaido, female chickens with modified genes laid eggs, which the researchers confirmed contained interferon beta in the whites of the eggs.
Currently, three females are each laying eggs every one or two days.
In the future, the team plans to stably produce interferon beta weighing several dozen milligrams to 100 milligrams from one egg, which would result in a dramatic reduction in production costs.
However, as the safety standards for pharmaceutical drugs are high, the team intends to start with the production of interferon beta for use as a research reagent.
“This is a result that we hope leads to the development of cheap drugs,” Prof. Hironobu Hojo at Osaka University said. “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.