By Stephanie Stahl

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Using chickens to produce eggs is one way researchers are trying to make affordable drugs. This research, which is being done in Scotland, is using chickens to produce eggs that contain drugs.

Scientists say it could be a cost effective way of producing cheaper drugs.

The chickens are far from ordinary. They’re laying eggs containing cancer-killing drugs.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have genetically modified birds to produce human proteins in their eggs that boost the immune system.

“In the past, making these transgenic animals has been very inefficient, very expensive and difficult,” said Professor Helen Sang. “And, what we’ve done is found a method that makes it a lot faster, a lot more efficient.”

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Scientists say the egg white contains the treasure – large quantities of medically important proteins which they can purify and package as medicines to treat arthritis and some cancers.

“If you want to have more eggs, you just need more birds,” said Dr. Lissa Herron. “And that’s what we have in this pen, a cockerel, and he can produce a lot of children in a short time.”

Eggs are already used for growing viruses used in vaccines such as the flu shot.

Scientists say making medicine with eggs is up to 100 times cheaper than producing it in a factory.

Currently, they can extract one dose of a drug from three eggs. Hens can lay up to 300 eggs a year.

Researchers believe they can eventually breed enough chicks to produce medicine for patients commercially.

Researchers in Scotland say it will take 10 to 20 years to go through the regulatory process to make these types of medicines available for patients.

A range of biological systems can be used to try and create drugs, such as bacteria and yeast, but it can be a tricky and expensive process. Making protein from egg white is relatively easy, according to the researchers.

Stephanie Stahl