The brave new world of biotechnological engineering moved to the farm this month--via a herd of specially bred goats whose owners say will be capable of producing proteins at a tenth of the cost of current methods.
Genzyme Transgenics Corp., which uses specially produced proteins to make prescription drugs and diagnostic products, said last week that it has taken possession of a 166-acre farm in western Massachusetts. It said the farm will be the first in the United States to be used in the commercial production of biotech drugs.
The special "transgenic" goats have been genetically altered with human genes so they can produce human proteins in their milk. The proteins can potentially be developed for future treatments for cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, cancers and cardiovascular disorders, the company said.
The farm, near the towns of CharltonQ and Spencer, can house as many as 1,000 goats and will initially employ 10 to 12 people. Only about one-third of the goats will be transgenic. The rest will be normal goats placed with the herd for breeding and to confuse would-be thieves.
The 30 transgenic goats in the current herd of 200 goats, imported from New Zealand, are insured for $1 million each, the company said. The animals, of the Swiss Alpine and Saanen breeds, weigh about 125 pounds and stand 3 feet at the shoulder. They will produce milk for seven to 10 years.
The goats promise a large cost savings over conventional production methods. A Genzyme spokesman said a herd of 125 goats could replace the function of a new 185,000-square-foot manufacturing plant built at a cost of more than $100 million by its parent, Genzyme Corp.
The factory in Allston, Mass., requires large, costly bioreactors and cell culture machinery to produce and purify the recombinant, or genetically engineered, proteins the goats make naturally.
Normal goats are turned into transgenic goats when genetically engineered fragments of DNA are injected into one-cell embryos. The fertilized eggs are reintroduced into the mother to produce a transgenic offspring.
Genzyme Transgenics said it already has produced a protein that is likely to be turned into the first transgenic pharmaceutical to move into U.S. human clinical trials next year. The protein is human antithrombin III, an anti-coagulant used to treat people with a hereditary deficiency of antithrombin-III. It said it has had a high success rate producing the protein in goat milk.