Biopharming: transgenic animals as medicine-factories

Paul Raven @ 03-02-2011

That sound you can hear is sound of bioconservatives gnashing their teeth in horror: COSMOS Magazine has a decent long piece on transgenic animals and the role they may play in tomorrow’s pharmacology:

The greatest impact biopharming will have on the world’s medicine cabinet is one of supply – it will dramatically boost the availability of biopharmaceuticals, also known as ‘biologics’. Biologics are defined as medicinal products extracted from or produced by biological systems – many are made by genetically manipulating cells of bacterial, animal or human origin.

The majority of biologics are proteins such as hormones, enzymes, growth factors and antibodies, which can be collectively called therapeutic proteins, as well as viral proteins for use in vaccines.

This method of drug manufacture will make things cheaper… but not to the degree that you might expect:

A review of the scientific literature shows that a slew of antibody-based drugs manufactured in transgenic animals are poised to enter the market as soon as their branded competitors’ patents expire.

Traditionally, this would result in the transgenic animal-manufactured drugs being labelled as generic drugs – a non-patented, cheaper alternative to brand-name medications with the same active ingredient.

But because the antibodies that the transgenic animals produce are extremely complex monoclonal antibodies – large protein-based structures that specifically recognise one part of a target molecule – no two are alike. This means that, unlike the less complex ‘small molecule’ (non protein) structure of most drugs, they cannot technically be called generics.

“When GTC Biotherapeutics start marketing Herceptin from transgenic cows, it will be classed as a biosimilar, not a biogeneric. We may even end up having a better Herceptin, what we’d call a ‘biobetter’,” notes Heiden.

The ‘better’ refers to aspects of a drug’s profile that may be more desirable than those of its competitor, such as better efficacy or fewer side effects. These traits will affect pricing, but biosimilars will still be cheaper.

“The cost savings will be in the order of 30% – not the 80% price drops we see when a generic small molecule drug goes to market,” says Heiden. That’s because of where in the manufacturing process the savings impact. “Where we save money is at the front end. But the downstream cost of goods, which is about half of the total, is the same regardless of whether you are using cell culture or animals on a farm. You still have to extract and purify your product.”

Well, you do if you’re playing by the rules… I’ll bet there’s plenty of corners that can be cut if you’re not too bothered about meeting safety standards. Hmmm, the ideas for my genetic police procedural are all falling rapidly into place…


See-through goldfish

Paul Raven @ 05-01-2010

Every now and again, scientific research comes up with something that can be marketed beyond the laboratory circuit. Researchers at Mie University and Nagoya University in central Japan have just perfected the genetic manipulations required to make a transparent goldfish, and they’re hot on the tails of another group who developed a transparent frog a few years ago, which they’re now planning to start selling as pets. [image credit AFP, borrowed from linked article; contact for immediate take-down if required]

These transparent animals are a response to increasing pressure from animal rights groups over dissections, as they provide a rare opportunity to see the 3-dimensional arrangement of internal organs in a living creature… but who knows what demands might be created once these critters hit the pet stores?


NEW FICTION: WHITE SWAN by Jason Stoddard

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2010

It’s a new year, and we have new fiction at Futurismic once again, courtesy of a familiar face. We’ve published more stories by Jason Stoddard than any one other author, and if you can read White Swan and still wonder why that is… well, I don’t know what to tell you!

“White Swan” sees Jason taking on a different style and voice, and very successfully. It’s a tale of small bright hopes in a dark and difficult future, and a shining example of why optimistic sf doesn’t have to be unrealistic, trite or panglossian. Read and enjoy. 🙂

White Swan

by Jason Stoddard

The tiny room stinks of kid-sweat and puke, and greasy Portland rain, endless, rattles the thin plastic window. Little Beny thrashes in his narrow bed, clawing unseen monsters.

This is the hardest time, Lili Antila thinks.

Hardest because she knows Beny’s cries are echoing through the thin walls to reach his mother and father, who drip exhausted tears on screens bright with electronic hope. Hardest because this is when she always thinks, What if it doesn’t work this time? Hardest because it brings back gauze-wrapped memories of bright-lit hospital rooms and hard-faced doctors and soft sheets rough like sandpaper on her own changing skin–

Lili blinks back tears and turns to the wall, which is playing one of her favorite movies on a window not much bigger than her hand: Bad Girl. A black-and-white James Dunn is waxing on about his dream of owning a radio store. Lili knows what a radio store is. A physical location to house goods for sale, electronics so hopelessly primitive that they were not even interactive. She also knows it is a sad and impossible dream in the First Depression. The screen is smart enough to know this, and it displays the movie with no floaters, no contextual hints.

There is a scuffle of feet at the door. A polite noise. Lili waits for Freya to walk up behind her. She can feel Freya’s body heat in the chill room. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: WHITE SWAN by Jason Stoddard”


What Are The Animals Becoming?

Brenda Cooper @ 16-12-2009

Since I went for things made of metal skins and electrical guts last month when I wrote about weird robots, I decided to opt for warm-blooded carbon-based life forms this time around – so welcome to the December column on smart animals!

Now, we’re a dog family, and we have a golden retriever and two border collies.  My partner just bought a puzzle for the dogs. It’s a wooden base with cups for treats, and sliding doors that move and hide the treats.  The object is for the dog to slide the doors out of the way and get the treats inside.  One of the stated purposes of the toy is to increase animal intelligence.  Mind you, if the border collies get much smarter we’re in trouble.  The golden?  Well, that’s another story. Continue reading “What Are The Animals Becoming?”


BioBricked bacteria glow in the presence of landmines

Paul Raven @ 18-11-2009

landmine warning sign, CambodiaAn alarmingly large amount of the world’s surface is strewn with landmines left behind after conflicts of one sort or another, leaving the locals at risk of death and mutilation long after the dispute that caused them to be laid down has ended (or moved elsewhere).

Scouting for landmines is a risky job for humans (and, sadly, not everyone has a bomb dog like UXO)… but a student project at the University of Edinburgh may have found an easier and safer way of locating the mines so that they can be defused:

Bacteria which glow green in the presence of explosives could provide a cheap and safe way to find hidden landmines, Edinburgh scientists claim. The bugs can be mixed into a colourless solution, which forms green patches when sprayed onto ground where mines are buried. Edinburgh University said the microbes could be dropped by air onto danger areas. Within a few hours, they would indicate where the explosives can be found. The scientists produced the bacteria using a new technique called BioBricking, which manipulates packages of DNA.

Sounds like the perfect solution… although, as Inhabitat points out, we could do with being sure that the bacteria are thoroughly benign and unlikely to spread beyond the target area, lest we simply swap landmines for a form of unintended biological warfare. [via SlashDot; image by karl simourd]


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