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article imageMilking Rabbits For New Medical Treatment

By Laura Trowbridge     Feb 1, 2010 in Health
The Netherlands-based biotech company, Pharming, may soon be milking a herd of one thousand genetically engineered rabbits to produce a new drug to treat sufferers of the genetic disorder hereditary angioedema (HAE).
HAE sufferers cannot produce enough of the naturally occuring protein, C1 inhibitor, which leads to bouts of painful cramps and even fatal suffocation.
According to National Geographic Daily News, Pharming has been experimenting with milking rabbits for years now. They just recently developed a new drug they named "Rhucin" from the bunny's milk-derived C1 inhibitor.
Last September Pharming submitted Rhucin to the European Medicines Agency which will evaluate the drug's safety and market approval for Europe. The Agency will give their verdict on the drug later this year. Rhucin has not yet been submitted to the United States for approval.
Pharming CEO Sijmen de Vries said milking rabbits "can roughly be compared to cow milking, but of course on a smaller scale." Mini pumping machines are attached to the female rabbits' teats. The rabbits are relaxed and show no signs of discomfort during the milking process. Researchers extract the C1 inhibitor protein from the milk in the lab afterwards.
Spokesperson Marjolein van Helmond said, "Human C1 inhibitor can be obtained from donor blood, but our … product can be produced in unlimited quantities from a scaleable and stable production system, and there are no safety issues in terms of [blood] viruses."
According to Sky News there is concern from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
One of the officers of RSPCA, Dr. Nikki Osbourne, stated: "Our major welfare concerns in this particular case are that the creation of genetically altered animals can cause pain, suffering and distress to all animals involved.
The techniques involved are inherently inefficient, with large numbers of animals used to create just a few animals with the desired genetic alteration.
The RSPCA is concerned at the use of animals as 'bioreactors' as part of the pharmaceutical production process.
The use of animals in this way increases the perception of animals as 'units of production' for human benefit, rather than sentient individuals."
A spokesman for Pharming said: "Our cattle and rabbit farms are operated on the highest levels of animal husbandry and run along strict regulatory procedures.
"Cattle and rabbits are carefully cared-for, are unharmed and live full lives. We look forward to gaining approval for our medicines and making a real difference to patient's lives."
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