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5-Animals: Fighting nerve gas with GE goat milk

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TITLE:  Fighting nerve gas
        Would use milk of transgenic animals
SOURCE: Canadian Press/Montreal Gazette, Canada, by Sheila McGovern
DATE:   Apr 1, 2003

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Fighting nerve gas
Would use milk of transgenic animals

Shares in Nexia Biotechnologies jumped 20 per cent yesterday after the
company announced it and its transgenic goats will collaborate with the
Canadian military to fight chemical weapons of mass destruction.

The Dorion-based firm has signed an agreement with Defence R&D Canada-
Suffield in Alberta to test Protexia, Nexia's re-engineered protein.

In non-scientific terms, the company and military want to get rid of gas
masks and rubber suits and come up with an injection that will nullify
the effects of nerve agents, including deadly sarin gas, which was used
in a terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

However, their research won't help the troops now fighting in Iraq.
Assuming all goes well, their product would not be ready until 2006.

Nexia founder Jeff Turner said Protexia is a recombinant version of
butyrycholinesterace, or BChE, which is found naturally in small
quantities in animal and human blood. Over the centuries, animals and
humans have managed to eat toxic substances, he said, and the body
produced BChE in defence. However, the quantity found naturally in human
blood "is quickly overrun by a nerve-agent challenge."

So Nexia and Suffield are going to see if Protexia can boost the amount
of BChE in the body. "We're fighting terrorism with innovation," he said,
"our long-term goal is to make nerve agents obsolete."

BChE is really a bioscavenger, he said, it acts like a sponge in the
blood to bind nerve agents and render them harmless before they reach the
brain and other sensitive sites.

The U.S. military has done a fair amount of research into BChE extracted
from blood, and it has proved successful in tests on animals, with no
side effects, he said. And bioscavengers have been used to treat
pesticide poisoning in the past, he added.

However, the quantities of BChE found in blood are small, he said, and it
is impossible to come up with quantities sufficient to protect large
numbers of people.

So Suffield asked Nexia if it could produce BChE in the milk of its
goats. Nexia has genetically altered its goats so that they can produce
proteins for use in medicine and industry. Its main product under
development is BioSteel, a spider silk that could be medically used for

Turner said the company first worked with mice, and was successful, so it
turned to the goats. "They're still very young and there's not a lot of
milk," he said, "but it (Protexia) is there."

Nexia will own the technology behind Protexia, but further testing and
research will be in military hands, since it involves the use of nerve
agents, which Nexia is not permitted to work with.

The research has to proceed differently from normal drug development, he
said, since scientists can't subject people to nerve gas.

Tests will be carried out on animals, he said, and there will also be
tests to ensure Protexia is safe for humans.

Nexia shares rose 28 cents to $1.68 in Toronto .