Expensive biotech drugs now made in high-tech manufacturing plants can be grown much more cheaply in genetically engineered algae, according to a paper published Monday in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Manufacturing costs can be reduced by 90 percent for these drugs, translating into half off their sales price, said Stephen Mayfield, a UC San Diego professor and senior author of the paper. The savings would provide financial relief to patients, health insurers and the federal government -- and the technology could boost San Diego's growing algae biotech sector.
The technology could make obsolete the manufacturing plants that grow specialized mammal cells in carefully monitored and chemically controlled vats, plants that cost hundreds of millions to build.
In their place would stand greenhouses containing transparent plastic bags filled with algae, water and diluted fertilizer. In Mayfield’s vision, scientists will design drugs on a computer, get the appropriate DNA by mail order from a manufacturer, then slip the DNA into the algae of choice. Ramping up production would be simply a matter of adding more bags.