On Friday, the US Food and Drug Adminstration stopped dragging its feet and acknowledged that tomorrow's drugs are just as likely to be made in the bosoms of goats as they are to come out of a laboratory. The latest craze among drug makers is "pharming," or the practice of creating special, genetically-engineered animals that literally exude drugs. In the case of the drug approved on Friday, ATryn, this means creating GMO goats that manufacture a crucial protein for use in the drug. These goats are the first "pharm animals" that have been approved for drug manufacture in America, though they have been used in Europe for at least two years.

A Massachusetts company called GTC Therapeutics manufactures ATryn, which is designed to help people with blood-clotting disorders. Though ATryn is unlikely to become a blockbuster drug, since it aids only a small part of the population, its approval opens the door for more pharmed drugs to hit the market. But why genetically engineer a herd of goats instead of just making drugs the old-fashioned way?

According to the New York Times:

Proponents say such "pharm animals" could become a means of producing biotechnology drugs at lower cost or in greater quantities than the existing methods - which include extracting proteins from donated human blood or growing them in large steel vats of genetically engineered cells.

The protein in the goat milk, antithrombin, is sometimes in short supply or unavailable for pharmaceutical use because of a shortage of human plasma donations. GTC Biotherapeutics said one of its goats can produce as much antithrombin in a year as can be derived from 90,000 blood donations. And if more drug is needed, the herd can be expanded.


More pharmed drugs are already in production, including a cure for hereditary angioedema (a disorder that causes tissue swelling) produced in the milk of GMO rabbits.


The Great Beyond [blog for Nature journal]

New York Times