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Can a goat turn into a hero for drug manufacturers?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  June 22, 2012 03:06 PM

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The TED lecture series is dedicated to spreading off-the-wall ideas, but at TEDxBoston Friday at the Seaport World Trade Center, one theme was just how complex problems can have simple solutions. Sometimes, those solutions involve goats.

Speaker Harry Meade, a senior vice president at a company called GTC Biotherapeutics, described the cost and difficulty of producing certain complicated biologic drugs. Much of the expense comes from growing the drugs in huge stainless steel tanks housed in vast factories. Meade's company has a different approach: Grow the drugs you need in the mammary glands of genetically engineered goats. The genetic work sounds really complicated, but the upkeep is not. The bioreactors in question feed on hay.

Meade's goats weren't the only simple — er, simple-ish — solution to a complicated medical issue. A speaker named Ashifi Gogo described a simple cell phone-based system to identify counterfeit drugs and catch the counterfeiters.

An obvious critique of the TED talks is that advances like these are presented to a lay audience, rather than in a peer-review setting. If you know nothing about biologic drugs — and I don't — it's hard to evaluate claims about goats with sophisticated drugs in their milk. But if it pans out, there's something inspiring about the possibility of goats replacing big, ugly machinery.

Twitter: @danteramos

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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