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Dolly creators to breed modified chickens to fight cancer


LONDON, England (Reuters) -- The Scottish scientists who created Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal, announced a deal Wednesday with U.S. biotech company Viragen Inc. to breed chicken that produce life-saving drugs in their eggs.

Dr Helen Sang, of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute said the deal will combine the nuclear transfer technology used to make Dolly with Viragen's expertise in developing anti-cancer proteins.

"The essence of this project is to create chickens which produce eggs containing new drugs to treat many serious diseases, including cancer," Sang said in a statement.

Roslin scientists are already developing cows, sheep, goats and rabbits to provide proteins for drugs in their milk but birds provide a cheaper, faster and virtually unlimited production process through laying eggs.

"This collaborative effort is being undertaken to enable the production of a wide variety of drugs in greater volume and at a fraction of the cost when compared to conventional manufacturing methods," explained Gerald Smith of Florida-based Viragen.

News of the deal that was announced at Edinburgh Castle was leaked in British newspapers during the weekend, along with news that Britney, reportedly one of a flock of genetically modified birds, would make an appearance.

But it seems to have been a case of counting eggs before they are hatched.

"There is no Britney," a Roslin spokeswoman told Reuters.

"The announcement is about work to be done in the future. It is not done yet," she added.

Dolly the sheep was produced by taking the nucleus out of a cell from the mammary gland of an adult animal and fusing it, using an electrical current, into another sheep egg cell from which the nucleus had been removed.

The same technology will allow scientists, for the first time, to precisely control where and how genes are inserted into hens.

"The collaboration with Viragen is a key part of our strategy to expand the institute's development of medical applications of Dolly technology," said Professor Grahame Bulfield, the director of the Roslin Institute.

TranXenoGen Inc, a British company that specializes in the production of human therapeutic proteins in chicken eggs is working on a similar project.

It is estimated that the genetically modified chickens will lay about 250 eggs, containing proteins for drugs, a year.

Viragen is collaborating with Britain's Cancer Research Campaign to develop a vaccine for the treatment of breast, ovarian and colorectal cancer.

It is also working with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York on a treatment for skin cancer.

Viragen's lead product, a treatment for hepatitis C called Omniferon, is being tested in clinical trials in Europe.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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The Cancer Research Campaign
Roslin Institute
Viragen Inc.

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