Updated 1:29 PM ET
December 14, 2000
By Richard Woodman
LONDON (Reuters Health) - PPL Therapeutics, the company that created "Dolly" the cloned sheep, is joining with Celentis Ltd. in an effort to use genetically-engineered cloned cattle to produce milk containing a multiple sclerosis-related protein and human albumin--a protein used to stabilize blood volume during surgery and in cases of shock or burns.
Celentis is the commercial arm of AgResearch, New Zealand's largest government research agency. PPL Therapeutics announced the joint venture on Thursday.
Dr. Ron James, managing director of PPL, said that the Scottish company planned to produce basic myelin protein, which could then hopefully be used to treat multiple sclerosis patients. In multiple sclerosis, the protective myelin sheath surrounding the nerve fibers is damaged, causing symptoms such as numbness, coordination problems, and muscle weakness and stiffness.
"Some work has been done in animals that indicates that you can regenerate nerves and get messages through," James told Reuters Health.
As for PPL's plans to enter the 1 billion pound (US $1.5 billion) human albumin market, he said producing the product in cattle avoided the risk of viral contamination that may occur when the protein is collected from human blood.
He also noted that the decision had an economic rationale as well. As more and more blood proteins are being produced in the laboratory--rather than collected from blood--the cost of producing the remaining products increases.
"One by one, plasma products are being replaced by recombinant versions," James said. "As that happens, the cost of fractionation falls on fewer products. Therefore, the price per product goes up."
In a news release, PPL said Celentis would fund the development of the founder cattle. From then on, the venture would be jointly funded, with PPL granting its rights to its nuclear transfer patents (the technique used in cloning) in the field of proteins in milk and Celentis bringing its experience of using nuclear transfer to produce transgenic cattle.
PPL has existing
facilities in New Zealand, where it is breeding sheep for its lead product
alpha-1-antitrypsin, which is being developed with Bayer.