Science in Society Archive

Biotech century ending?

This miniseries charts the further collapse of the biotech empire, particular in the supposedly ‘highly lucrative’ biomedical sector since the latter part of 2000. It is now desperately grasping for support from the taxpayer by hyping genetics and bio-defence. Don’t be fooled.

  1. Genetics & Bio-Defence Research Rescue Biotech Slump
  2. Gene Therapy Risks Exposed
  3. Death Sentence on Cloning
  4. Pig Organ Transplants Dangerous & Costly
  5. Animal Pharm Folds

Animal Pharm Folds

The company that helped clone Dolly is fighting for survival, as one after another of its technologies unravel. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports.

PPL Therapeutics, the company that made its fortunes on Dolly the cloned sheep 6 year ago, announced on 18 June that its partner, the German drug giant Bayer, has suspended development of recombinant alpha-1 anti-trypsin, a treatment for emphysema. This was one of PPL’s main projects.

In response, PPL said it will lay off up to 140 of its 165 employees in both UK and New Zealand and scrap plans for a £42 million manufacturing plant. The company itself could fold, some analysts say.

When PPL was set up in 1989, the company hoped to clone flocks of genetically modified sheep and cows that would produce therapeutic proteins in their milk. But the firm has been forced to sell off several projects within the past few years, including the somatic cell nuclear transplant cloning that produced Dolly, as the technology has come up against insurmountable hurdles (see “Death sentence on cloning”, this series). It closed down its stem-cell projects last September, and in April this year, sold off its xenotransplantation arm (another technology that is biting the dust, see “Pig organ transplants dangerous & costly”, this series). PPL’s share price, which exceeded £4 in the mid 1990s, is now about 6 pence.

Geoff Cook, PPL’s chief executive, warned that shareholders may decide that selling the company’s remaining assets is the best way to recoup their investment.

Meanwhile mass slaughter has begun of up to 3 000 transgenic sheep at the company’s two farms in East Lothian.  The animals must be slaughtered and incinerated on the same day under strict Home Office regulations to avoid environmental
risks; and meat from the animals cannot be sold as food.

Article first published 28/07/03



Sources:

  1. “Sheep fail to produce golden fleece”, Gretchen Vogel. Science 2003, 300, 2015-6.
  2. “Dolly firm in trouble after transgenic milk fails to flow”, Jenny Hogan, Nature 2003, 423, 907.
  3. “Dolly creators begin mass slaughter” http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/index.cfm?id=768342003

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