What came first, the chicken or the cure for cancer?

The eggs of genetically engineered hens are being used in the quest for a cancer cure, scientists have revealed.

It is hoped the strange method, which will see the eggs contain life-saving drugs, will dramatically slash the cost of current treatments.

Prices of beta interferons are currently sky-high, but could be halved if the new bizarre method works, Japanese researchers claim.

The drugs are already used to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight some types of cancer, and in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and hepatitis.

The scientists now have three hens whose eggs containing the drug “interferon beta”, with the birds laying eggs almost daily, the report said

Researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in the Kansai region kicked off the process.

How are the researchers doing it?

They introduced genes that produce interferon beta into cells which are precursors of chicken sperm, the English edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.  

They then used these cells to fertilise eggs and create hens which inherited those genes, meaning the birds were able to lay eggs containing the disease-fighting agent.

The scientists now have three hens whose eggs contain the drug, which currently costs £677 ($888) for a few microgrammes to produce.

The birds are laying eggs almost daily.

The researchers plan to sell the drug to pharmaceutical companies, halving its price, so the firms can use it first as a research material.

Strict regulations 

Consumers may have to wait a while, as Japan has strict regulations concerning the introduction of new pharmaceutical products, with screening processes that routinely take years to complete.


Most cancer drugs given a European medical licence do nothing to extend or improve the lives of patients, a study concluded last week.

Researchers found this was true of 57 per cent of treatments approved by the European Medicines Agency between 2009 and 2013.

Many were provided in Britain through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Even when drugs did show survival gains over existing treatments, the benefits were marginal, the British-led study said.

Treatments that did improve life expectancy gave patients only an extra 2.7 months on average, often at the cost of thousands of pounds. 

But the team hopes that the technological breakthrough will eventually help drive down the cost of the drug to 10 percent of its current price.

Officials at the institute could not be reached for comment.

For decades, researchers have touted interferons, which come as either alphas, betas or gammas, as a possible treatment for many forms of cancer.

The powerful substance, known as a cytokine, is produced naturally by the body’s immune system whenever it fights an infection or illness.

The benefits of interferons 

Various studies have shown the biological treatment to be successful in treating kidney cancer, some forms of leukaemia and deadly melanomas.

Interferon alpha is administered as an injection three times a week and stops cancer cells from multiplying. It also gives killer T cells a boost to attack tumours.

Scientists are underway with more research on the effects of beta interferons in treating cancer, with a mixed range of results so far. 

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