Rights: The University of Waikato Published 16 March 2010 Download

Mammalian cell culture and transgenic cow technology are two different methods for producing human therapeutic proteins. Dr Goetz Laible compares these methods.

Questions to consider

  • Can you list some of the advantages of using transgenic cows to produce therapeutic proteins?
  • What other animals could be used to produce therapeutic proteins and why?


The most dominant production platform for biopharmaceuticals would be mammalian cells that are in culture in the laboratory. The fermentation in cell lines is very expensive. It’s produced in large stainless steel tanks and usually has a very limited production capacity and it’s very inflexible, because it’s a lot of capital expenditure to build these stainless steel production tanks, whereas in the cow, it can be much more economical and more flexible.

We are using livestock, and particularly cows, because this is where our expertise comes in. The cow produces large amounts of proteins and so we can take advantage of that, and it’s also very flexible, and depending on the requirements, you can easily scale up or scale down production volumes, which is not possible in stainless steel production forms. And the other big advantage of the mammary gland of a cow is also that they can produce very highly complex proteins, which is… some are not even possible to produce in reasonable quantities in cell lines.

So if you want to produce a protein needed in large quantities then the cow would be the ideal production system. Now in some cases, it might be that the absolute quantity is not the main driver, so if the needed amounts of the protein are slightly less, you might want to choose a smaller animal that gives you the opportunity to produce in shorter timeframes.

Peter Grotzinger, JNI Corporation