Genetically Modified Chicken Eggs Could Crack Open Cheaper Cancer Drugs

New research suggests that genetically modified chickens might be the future of drug making.
Jessica Miley

New research suggests the future of drug making might lie with genetically modified chickens. Research for the University of Edinburgh suggests that chickens who have been modified to produce human proteins in their eggs might offer a cost-effective way of producing certain drugs.

The study initially was looking on how to produce high-quality proteins for use in scientific research, found that drug proteins produced in the same way were just as effective as proteins developed using standard laboratory methods.

The proteins are easily recoverable from each egg using simple purification systems, and the genetic modification has no adverse effects on the chickens who lay the eggs in a regular way.

Chickens could become a cost-effective way to produce high-quality drugs for use in research studies and eventually could produce drugs for use in humans. 

Chickens can cheaply produce proteins 

Only three eggs were needed to make up a clinically relevant dose of the drug. Chicken produce over 300 eggs per year, making drugs-via-eggs a cost-effective method when compared to the high-intensity labor required in some labs.


Drugs that are suitable for humans haven’t been produced yet, but the scientists involved with the study say it is definitely a possibility.

“We are not yet producing medicines for people, but this study shows that chickens are commercially viable for producing proteins suitable for drug discovery studies and other applications in biotechnology,” said Professor Helen Sang from the Roslin Institute.

Eggs are already used for growing the viruses that are then used in vaccines like the flu shot. This new research offers a different approach because the therapeutic proteins are encoded in the chicken’s DNA and produced as part of the egg white.

“These recent findings provide a promising proof of concept for future drug discovery and potential for developing more economical protein-based drugs, explained Dr. Ceri Lyn-Adams, the Head of Science Strategy at BBSRC. 

Cancer drugs could become cheaper

Two proteins have been chosen for initial research, a human protein called IFN alpha 2a, which has powerful antiviral and anti-cancer effects, and the human and pig versions of a protein called macrophage-CSF, which is being developed as a therapy that stimulates damaged tissues to repair themselves.

Protein-based drugs are commonly used in cancer treatment. However, the only way to produce some of these proteins to a high enough standard involves using mammalian cell culture techniques, which are expensive and have low yields.

The researchers are working with commercialization experts to bring about new ways of producing drugs for research related to animal health as well as human therapeutics.

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