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GOATS, SPIDERS AND MEDICINAL MILK

Goats Make Drugs, World Doesn’t Change

Goats can now make medicine in their milk. But they can’t make money…yet.

Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration approved Atryn, from GTC Biotherapeutics, a medicine to treat a hereditary deficiency of the clot-preventing chemical antithrombin. It will be the first medicine made in transgenic animals to be sold. Investors shrugged. Shares in the tiny company are worth only 75 cents and the stock market puts the company’s value at a measly $75 million. (In fairness, that is up seven-fold from the stock’s 52-week low.)

To get a full sense of how dramatic this is you have to remember what a big deal the idea of making drugs in goats or plants was eight years ago. GTC, then called Genzyme Transgenics, was just one of several companies that planned to use animals as production plants.

One outfit, Nexia Biotechnologies, was going to use spider silk produced in the milk of genetically engineered goats to make incredibly resilient fabric for use in surgery or in bullet-proof vests. It’s now part of another company, Pharmathene. A Dutch firm, Pharming, is hoping to sell a drug made in the milk of transgenic rabbits.

Years later, the goat breakthrough finally happens and it is worth less than a buck a share. In biotech, most things fail and the ones that don’t just fail to make money. Several other companies are working on drugs from designer animals, but if this is a big trend it looks to be a long time coming. Even this small taste of success though, is enough to rile some consumer and animal rights groups, who see an environmental danger or a form of goat abuse.

With scientists discovering new ways of making ever more complicated genetic enhancements to organisms of all types, its worth noting how rarely such efforts result in a big payoff. Still, for the sake of patients with hereditary antithrombin deficiency, lets hope GTC can turn Atryn into  a successful product.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 23rd March 2010

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