Altered meat, milk waiting in the wings? / PPL to be sold off (15/9/2003)

"PPL was once seen as the darling of the Scottish biotech sector... As well as cloning Dolly in 1996, it was the first company to announce it had cloned pigs capable of providing organs for humans and has also worked on stem cells, which scientists believe can be coaxed into growing replacement organs.

"During the summer, PPL began a mass slaughter of its flock of genetically-modified sheep in an effort to cut costs. Shortly before that, it announced it has scrapped plans to build a multi-million pound manufacturing plant at Gowkley Moss in Midlothian."
1.Altered meat, milk waiting in the wings
2.Troubled PPL puts itself on the market
1.Altered meat, milk waiting in the wings
Even if the FDA gives consent, will the public go for them?
Sacranebto Bee, USA, by Edie Lau, Aug 11, 2003
One week before he was scheduled to talk to a group of fellow scientists about the commercial potential of biotech livestock, George Seidel Jr. wasn't sure what he would conclude.

Funny thing was, he'd given a talk on the same topic six years before. Back then, in 1997, he spoke optimistically of a dawning "golden age" in gene technology.

But today, as he presents an opening speech at the fourth UC Davis Transgenic Animal Research Conference in Tahoe City, Seidel will acknowledge that his predictions were wrong. Despite 20 years of effort in private and public laboratories around the world and millions of dollars spent, no genetically modified farm animals have made the leap to the marketplace.

"It's just not happened," said Seidel, a professor in the animal reproduction and biotechnology laboratory of Colorado State University. "A question is, why is that true?"

He's not ready to say it never will happen. It's just apparent, he said, that it will take longer than many people once thought.

A zebra fish engineered with jellyfish protein to glow in the dark is being sold as an aquarium pet in Asia -- and reportedly will arrive this summer in the United States. But it's considered more a curiosity than a serious commodity.

An American company in Massachusetts, Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc., has been widely anticipated to be the first to serve consumers genetically modified meat. It makes salmon engineered for speedy growth.

Company President Elliot Entis expressed hopes in an interview with The Bee in 2001 that the fish would be ready for sale in 2002. But today, the company still is in the midst of studies to demonstrate to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that its fish are healthy, safe to eat and won't harm the environment.

As in other "transgenic" animals, the genes of the salmon have been modified with DNA from other life forms. Specifically, Atlantic salmon bear a growth hormone gene from chinook, a different species of salmon. They also carry DNA from another fish, the ocean pout, that switches the gene on and off.

The concept of mixing and matching DNA is familiar and comfortable to the scientists who do it, but for much of the rest of the world, advances in rewriting the code of life are happening much too fast.

Protests in Sacramento this June of a U.S.-sponsored international conference on agricultural technologies showed as much as anything that consumer suspicion of biotechnology is alive and well.

The 925 official attendees of the conference were outnumbered 2-to-1 by activists who converged to decry biotechnology, a potent symbol for them of industrial-style agriculture.

The protesters focused in large part on the potential environmental and health dangers of genetically modified crops; biotech plants have been grown commercially for the better part of 10 years.

The only reason there was little attention to biotech meats is because they're not yet for sale, said Peter Rosset, co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy in Oakland, one of many organizations that participated in protest activities.

"I would say the concerns (about biotech food animals) are the same or worse," Rosset said. " ... God knows what we might be drinking in our milk."

Modifying milk is one of the targets of some scientists. They envision milk that produces therapeutic proteins for medicines, and milk that's more nutritious to drink.

Their efforts are moving in fits and starts, and sometimes arrive at what look like dead ends.

One of the most scientifically successful companies in recent years was PPL, the Scottish company that helped produce Dolly the sheep clone. PPL engineered sheep to produce proteins in their milk for making a drug called AAT. AAT, short for alpha-1-antitrypsin, is used to treat certain lung diseases and potentially slow the worsening of cystic fibrosis.

PPL entered a joint venture with Bayer, the German drug company, to develop AAT commercially. Then this summer, Bayer announced the project would go on indefinite hold.

Hundreds of PPL's genetically modified sheep were slaughtered in July. Business analysts said the decision had nothing to do with a failure of science.

"Stunning science does not necessarily make stunning commercial companies," Erling Refsum, an analyst at Nomura International, told The Sunday Times of London.

Far from the volatility of the business world, a team of animal scientists at the University of California, Davis, has been plugging away for more than a decade trying to make milk more nutritious.

Today, they have a small herd of goats that produce in their milk an antimicrobial enzyme called lysozyme, which is naturally found in human tears, saliva and breast milk.

Animal Science Professor James Murray will talk about the team's work at this week's research conference. He said in an interview that the milk killed harmful E. coli bacteria in petri dishes. It also killed a type of bacteria that's responsible for spoiling milk. That suggests, Murray said, that the lysozyme-containing milk would have a longer shelf life.

In a second biotech project, the team has created goats whose milk has a higher share of monounsaturated, or "good" fats, and a smaller share of saturated, or "bad" fats, than milk from conventional goats.

"I'm very excited," said Murray. " ... It's a way of extending the versatility and utility of a product."

Murray said he hasn't yet discussed the change formally with dairy goat ranchers. "I don't know if they'll be interested or horrified. It'll be a bit of both, actually," he said.

Sure enough, Betty McCorkle, president of the Family Goat Association in Oroville, had a mixed reaction when asked for her thoughts.  "I am concerned about some of the possible fallout from gene-splicing, but (I) have an open mind about such things," she said.

Murray said the university is pursuing patents on the engineered goats and plans to apply to the FDA this fall for permission to run milk taste tests, make cheese and yogurt with the milk and feed the milk to conventional goats and pigs.

As a sign of the FDA's high interest in animal biotechnology, the agency is sending 12 scientists to the Tahoe City conference. The meeting is expected to bring together a total of 120 people from all around the world, including China, Korea, Denmark, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada.

"One of the very attractive things about this meeting is that it is relatively small, and there is a lot of opportunity for cross- fertilization of ideas," said Rae Jones, an FDA spokeswoman. "We look forward to being able to see what's coming up on the horizon."
2.Troubled PPL puts itself on the market
Edinburgh Evening News

PPL Therapeutics, the Midlothian firm that cloned Dolly the sheep, today put itself up for sale and announced the departure of most of its board after failing to find a way to move the ailing firm forward.

In June, the Roslin-based company said it was shedding most of its workforce after its partner, German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, put on hold the development of a key lung disorder treatment.

The decision to suspend the development of recATT, a medicine made from the milk of genetically-modified sheep, was a major blow to PPL, and left the firm with a single product - the blood clotting treatment Fibrin 1.

In a statement released today, PPL said alongside first-half results highlighting widening losses, it had been faced with a number of options, including restructuring the business to focus solely on Fibrin or winding itself up.

It said: "The board believes that there is the potential for significant long-term value to be created from the Fibrin 1 product as part of a broader sealants business.

"Although the majority of PPL's major institutional shareholders were supportive of the sealants plan, the required level of support to go forward was insufficient."

PPL confirmed it was now seeking "an orderly sale of the business in order to maximise the short-term value of its assets for the benefit of all shareholders".

Shares in PPL rose seven per cent to 5.5p in early trading following this morning's news.

The boardroom cull involves the departure of chief executive Geoff Cook, product development director Martyn Breeze, manufacturing director Gordon Wright and non-executive directors Arthur Hale and Roger Brimblecombe.   All five will step down "with immediate effect", leaving a small group of directors, including chairman Chris Greig and chief financial officer Lindsay Dunsmuir, to oversee the disposal process, which will be administered by KPMG's corporate finance arm.

PPL said the on-going restructuring of the business had seen its headcount drop from 161 to just 55, "consistent with preserving the value of PPL's key assets".

To date, the restructuring has cost the local firm GBP8.1 million in write-downs, redundancy costs, and other liabilities resulting from the decision to postpone the recAAT project.

The interim accounts showed PPL had made a net loss of GBP12.8m in the six months to June 30 - against GBP5.5m a year earlier - and that it had GBP11.4m of cash at that time. At the pre-tax stage, losses widened to just under GBP13.5m, from a GBP6.4 deficit in 2002.

PPL was once seen as the darling of the Scottish biotech sector, and has been involved in some major industry breakthroughs.  As well as cloning Dolly in 1996, it was the first company to announce it had cloned pigs capable of providing organs for humans and has also worked on stem cells, which scientists believe can be coaxed into growing replacement organs.

During the summer, PPL began a mass slaughter of its flock of genetically-modified sheep in an effort to cut costs.  Shortly before that, it announced it has scrapped plans to build a multi-million pound manufacturing plant at Gowkley Moss in Midlothian.  The facility would have created around 200 new jobs.

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