Chicken eggs may lower cost of cancer treatment

As drug prices rise, many cancer patients choose not to fill prescriptions for lifesaving medications — nearly 20% will stop taking important drugs due to costs, according to some research.

Expensive drugs are often attributed to increasingly expensive research and development costs. Fortunately, science is always looking for easier ways of doing things. A recent development out of Japan makes attaining one important pharmaceutical agent as easy as cracking an egg. No, really.

Okay, so it’s a bit more complicated than making an egg breakfast. A team of researchers edited the genome of hens to make them lay eggs containing a protein called interferon, which can help treat hepatitis and malignant skin cancer.

This was done by introducing interferon-producing genes into sperm precursor cells. Those cells then fertilized eggs that hatched male chicks. The chicks were then crossbred with females, ultimately producing chickens that lay interferon-containing eggs every one to two days.

The interferon must be refined from the egg whites, and the process of breeding chickens to lay the right eggs takes a generation or two, but the process may save a lot of money in the drug manufacturing process, researchers hope.

“This is a result that we hope leads to the development of cheap drugs,” Hironobu Hojo, an Osaka University professor who worked on the project, told the Japan Times.

Currently, a few micrograms of interferon cost between $250 and $900 to produce, according to Newsweek. The researchers plan for genome-edited chickens to be used as early as next year to halve the cost of interferon production. They hope that eventually, the cost could drop to 10% of current figures.

But for the time being, the interferon produced will be considered first for research purposes, due to strict safety standards that guarantee the eggs are closely evaluated before being considered for the pharmaceutical market.

“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,” Hojo said.

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