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Making Drugs From Cows' Milk

It's called transgenics. Genetically engineering animals to produce human medicines in their milk may become a way medicine is manufactured in the future. Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports for The Early Show.
At first glance, a sleepy little farm in central Massachusetts might not seem very high tech, but CBS News found something quite out of the ordinary there.

"These goats and this barn is what you might consider the pharmaceutical factory of the future," Dr. Sandra Lehrman says.

Dr. Lehrman and her team of scientists at Genzyme Transgenics have genetically designed and bred the goats to produce human proteins that can be used as medicine - proteins such as antithrombin 3, already being tested in people as a new treatment for heart disease.

"Our company is the first to clone transgenic goats making pharmaceutical products in their milk," she says.

Producing medicines in animals is much cheaper than using traditional production methods.

"Using transgenic animals, we can develop proteins as human therapeutics more rapidly and efficiently and, we believe, with a cost structure that will make the medicines affordable for the people who need them," explains Dr. Lehrman.

The goats are created by inserting a human gene into the DNA of a goat embryo in the hopes that the gene will produce a medicine to treat human disease.

The idea is to then clone the animals to provide an unlimited and cheap supply of drugs.

In Wisconsin, scientists at Infigen have been busy on their farm putting this idea into practice, cloning dozens of drug-producing cows to provide medicine for rare genetic diseases.

They expect to have a herd of 200 cows within two years.

"The calves behind me are a group of cloned calves that were born this summer; they're all genetically identical," notes Dr. Michael Bishop of Infigen.

Like the goats, each biotech cow provides a cheap drug source. It is hoped that one day a big enough herd could provide enough of some drugs to supply the whole world.

"For some therapeutic drugs, an individual cow may produce millions of dollars' worth of protein that could be used for therapeutic use on an annual basis," adds Dr. Bishop.

The animals are carefully screened and monitored for disease, as are the medicines extracted from the milk.

And the medicines being tested on people are monitored closely for safety by the Food and Drug Administration as any other drug is.

To get the medicine, the animals are simply milked and the medicine is purified from the milk in the laboratory.

Only a handful of drugs are being produced this way right now. The one closest to being on the market is 18 months to two years away; it's a drug for heart patients.

It is important to note that not all medicines can be made this way, but only those that are protein based.

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