healthHealth and Medicine

Japanese Scientists Have Grown Disease-Fighting Drugs In Chicken Eggs


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

What came first: the chicken or the drug? Yulia Fesyk/Shutterstock

Researchers in Japan have managed to genetically engineer hens so that their eggs contain cancer-fighting substances – all in a bid to substantially lower the cost of treatment. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, the protein that’s found in these miracle eggs is interferon-beta, something that’s produced by mammalian cells (beta-1a) and by modified E. coli bacteria (beta-1b).

At present, it can be used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune condition that causes your body to destroy the layer that protects the nerves in your spine and brain. Injections of this protein into patients who suffer from relapsing-remitting MS, which is an episodic form the condition, can reduce the rate of relapses by as much as 30 percent.


Although the evidence is relatively immature, there are hints that interferon-beta therapy could also help to push back against the proliferation of cancerous cells. In any case, as the protein has such wide-ranging pharmaceutical implications, it’s often sought out by drug manufacturers, who can sell it at high prices.

Currently, in Japan, the price of a few micrograms of the drug is about $888. Researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) wanted to come up with another way of developing this protein, so they decided to take a rather novel route.

The structure of interferon-beta. Nevit Dilmen/NIH

First, they introduced interferon-producing genes into the cells that are the forerunners to chicken sperm. They then proceeded to fertilize hens with said sperm. These gave rise to three offspring that inherited the gene. When these hens laid eggs, they were found to contain interferon-beta.

According to reports, the augmented hens are laying these eggs almost daily. At the current rate of production, the cost of the drug could be cut by as much as 50 percent.


The research isn’t yet peer-reviewed, and the researchers themselves haven’t released an official statement as of yet. Nevertheless, if confirmed, this represents a remarkable way to produce something that is always at risk of price gouging – something that one day could go on to manufacture life-changing, or even life-saving, treatments for thousands of people.


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  • interferon-beta,

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  • hens,

  • cut price