In the week in which the British Government tentatively tried to nail the national colours to the biotech mast, it's appropriate that the ailing biotech icon PPL Therapeutics, the company which helped clone Dolly the sheep, has announced it is to go into liquidation.
The story of PPL Therapautics provides an extraordinary morality tale involving political and bureaucratic duplicity and an abuse of public trust. Sound familiar?
1.Biotech icon finally bites the dust - GM WATCH
2.Liquidation For Dolly The Sheep Firm?
3.PPL collapses- Is Monsanto Next? - GE FREE NZ
1.Biotech icon bites the dust - GM WATCH
The story of PPL Therapautics provides an extraordinary morality tale about how the biotech bubble has enthralled politicians and bureaucrats, leading them to play fast and loose with public money and public standards.
In October 2002 Monsanto's then Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of Monsanto, Hugh Grant, joined the newly formed international advisory board of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's main government-funded agency for economic development. Grant's fellow board members included the chief executive of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, and the senior vice-president of Genzyme Corporation, one of the top ten biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
Scottish Enterprise's love affair with biotech began in the 1990s. At the end of that decade it launched a Framework for Action, which committed the Scottish tax payer to injecting nearly $64 million between 2000 and 2004 into the development of 'biotech customers'.
As 'Network Director - Biotechnology' at Scottish Enterprise, Peter Lennox, whose principal previous experience had been in the Food and Drinks (whisky) sector, was charged with the goal of doubling the number of biotech companies in Scotland from 50 to 100.
'Already our Biotechnology industry is world famous for Dolly the Sheep,' Lennox enthused. Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, had come into the world in 1996 at the Roslin Institute, just outside Edinburgh.
In 2000 it was announced that the company behind Dolly, PPL Therapeutics, was to build a drug manufacturing plant in Scotland. Scotland had been chosen, it was said, because of the financial support on offer from Scottish Enterprise which provided guarantees to underwrite PPL's repayment of GBP13.8m in loans.
For Lennox 'Dolly' was but the icon at the centre of an emerging 'biotech tartan triangle' that could be a major economic driver for Scotland. 'We have many other leading lights,' he claimed, 'who need enthusiastic and well informed young people to bring their talents to the industry in order to both maintain and increase that momentum through the 21st century.'
To help generate those 'enthusiastic and well informed young people' for the biotech sector Scottish Enterprise decided on a highly controversial course of action. In early April 2001 it announced that:
'Your World magazine, an informative and colourfully illustrated publication covering the key current topics of biotechnology, will be introduced to over 600 education establishments throughout Scotland from today, to augment the curriculum literature on life sciences... Produced in the US by the Biotechnology Institute, the magazine has seen great success in America for both education and industry alike.'
To coincide with the announcement, Scottish Enterprise brought together educationalists and industrialists at the Glasgow Science Centre to hear how Scottish Enterprise's Biotechnology Team had helped formulate teachers' notes to align the content of seven issues of the magazine to the Scottish school curriculum.
Simon Best, Managing Director of Geron Bio-Med, which like PPL Therapeutics was a commercial off-shoot of the Roslin Institute which produced Dolly the Sheep, spoke at the presentation, noting: 'Scotland is already a globally competitive player in Biotechnology... The education system should be the bedrock of building and maintaining public trust. The publication of 'Your World' is an important step in securing a healthier, wealthier and more sustainable future for Scotland.'
But many thought that the distribution to schools of Your World was a violation of public trust. An article in The Sunday Herald bore the headline, 'Fury at pro-GM school magazines'. The article noted thatYour World was produced in the U.S. by an organisation called the Biotechnology Institute whose funders included Monsanto and Novartis. The President of the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) sits on its board. The article noted that, in promoting the magazine, Scottish Enterprise, had failed to mention 'the fact that it has been sponsored by multinational GM companies'.
One issue of Your World was on GM crops. It claimed GM was 'creating better plants' and criticised organic farming. It also suggested pupils experiment with growing Monsanto GM soybeans. It had a special feature lauding the Monsanto-connected GM evangelist Florence Wambugu and her and Monsanto's GM sweet potato project, which has subsequently been shown to be a total failure.
The magazine's scientific advisor was CS Prakash, the controversial editor of the AgBioWorld website whose pro-GM campaign was co-founded with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, described by The Centre for Media and Democracy as a 'well-funded front for corporations'.
According to The Sunday Herald, 'The "infiltration" of industry into the curriculum worried the Educational Institute of Scotland, the trade union representing teachers. The institute's general secretary, Ronnie Smith, wanted Scottish Enterprise and HM Inspectorate of Education to exercise more critical judgement, and urged teachers to do the same.'
Martyn Evans, the director of the Scottish Consumer Council commented, 'The biotech companies behind the magazine are using the provision of education as a marketing opportunity to influence pupils.'
However, according to the article, 'Scottish Enterprise's biotechnology director, Peter Lennox, dismissed criticisms of the involvement of GM companies as nonsense. "I'm flabbergasted that anyone should raise this," he said. "It didn't even cross our minds. I thought it was just knowledge. Biotechnology is an enigma wrapped in a mystery an
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