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5-Animals: GE sheep slaughtered as PPL runs out of money

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TITLE:  Transgenic sheep slaughtered as Dolly's creators run out of money
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Cahal Milmo
DATE:   Jul 16, 2003

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Transgenic sheep slaughtered as Dolly's creators run out of money

With a team of vets monitoring their health 24 hours a day, security
guards to protect their privacy and all the lush meadow they could eat,
they were among the world's most pampered sheep. Until, that is, the
slaughtermen arrived.

Hundreds of genetically modified animals bred by PPL Therapeutics, the
Scottish bio-technology company which helped to clone Dolly the sheep,
were being culled yesterday on two farms in East Lothian and New Zealand.
The operation to reduce the 6,500-strong flock also marked the end of a
dream to transform medicine production and make millions of pounds in the

Dr Donald Bruce, an external member of PPL's ethics committee and the
Church of Scotland's adviser on science and technology, said: "It's a sad
end. This was a form of genetic modification where the harm to the animal
was minimal and yet there was a very substantial human benefit."

The sheep had been developed to produce proteins in their milk for the
manufacture of a drug called AAT, which is used to treat certain lung
diseases and potentially slow the progress of cystic fibrosis.

The company perfected a method of transferring a segment of DNA into the
sheep to produce the key proteins in the drug which could then be refined
into a powder.

But the project came to a halt three weeks ago when Bayer, the German
pharmaceuticals giant, said it was putting on hold for at least three
years a joint venture to develop AAT on a commercial basis - with
disastrous results for PPL. The company, based in Edinburgh, said it
would have to make 140 staff redundant (90 per cent of its workforce) and
was bringing in a firm of financial consultants, KPMG, to consider its future.

Geoff Cook, the chief executive, said the company would have to consider
liquidating its assets and had no choice other than to reduce its "cash burn".

AAT, or alpha-1-antitrypsin, was already being produced by Bayer as
Prolastin, for the treatment of conditions such as hereditary emphysema.
But because it had to be refined from human blood, causing concern about
HIV and other infections, production was costly. PPL believed it could
produce large quantities of AAT more cheaply and more safely.

Julie Simmonds, a biotechnology analyst for the investment bankers
Evolution Beeson Gregory, said: "No one ever doubted the brilliance of
their science but the company did not move quickly enough to commercially
viable production. It is difficult to see how they will still be around
in a year's time."

PPL said it was thinking of retaining a "significant" number of the
transgenic sheep in case the project was restarted.

The company said it was considering three options: liquidating its
assets; putting itself up for sale; or creating a business around its
last star product, a blood-clotting tissue sealant for use in surgery.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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