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Thursday, 10 September, 1998, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
How Dolly became a cash cow
Dolly and lamb
Dolly gave birth earlier this year
First it made Dolly the Sheep. Then it made a loss of 6.7m in six months.

Now PPL Therapeutics claims its new technology will make large quantities of life-saving drugs and a large amount of money.

The company that created the world's first mammal clone made from an adult cell says animal clones could be used to produce drugs much faster and cheaper in future.

The announcement comes a day after half-yearly figures showed PPL made pre-tax losses of 6.7m in the year to 30 June. But this new application of its revolutionary technology promises to pull the company out of the financial doldrums.

'Virtually unlimited' drugs

Speaking at the Cardiff festival of science, Dr Ian Garner of PPL said that the British biotechnology firm was developing technology, using transgenic livestock, to create "virtually unlimited" quantities of human proteins for therapeutic use.

"We can make very large amounts of the protein using this process and we can make it very cheaply."

Essentially, adding a small piece of DNA to the DNA of a sheep, cow or rabbit, allows the animal to make one extra protein - a human one.

"The human protein is secreted into the milk of a lactating female so that it is very easy to access the raw material from which to purify the desired product," Dr Garner said. "If more product is required, you simply breed more sheep, cows or rabbits."

Until now, therapeutic human proteins have only been made in this way in bacteria. But microbes cannot cope with the size and complexity of many human proteins.

Production 50% quicker

Dr Garner said recently developed processes, using large vats of animal cells, were akin to brewing and very expensive.

He said using the transgenic livestock was not only cheaper, but up to 50% quicker.

So far trials have shown the drugs to be safe, but longer tests are under way.

"If the trend continues... the prospects will be much brighter than we first thought," he said. "We will be able to treat patients perhaps three to four years earlier than before."

Financial flutters

The announcement by Dr Garner in Cardiff gives PPL more than a glimmer of hope in what was otherwise a bleak financial period.

Having invested heavily in expensive research projects the group made massive losses.

In the year up to 30 June, turnover ran at just 199,000. But with accumulated outgoings this turned into a 6.7m pre-tax loss. But it could now be payback time for the Edinburgh company.

PPL says AAT, a drug designed to help cystic fibrosis sufferers and which could also help in the treatment of other lung diseases, could have a market value of 1bn.

Dr Ron James, managing director of PPL, is optimistic: "This half year has seen solid progress with advances being made in our use of the company's technology platform and skills.

"With three other products due to enter clinical trials within the next 12 months, it is with much confidence that we look to the year ahead."

Shares in PPL reached a high of 550p in 1997 when the news of Dolly was announced. But the reputation of biotechnology companies suffered during a scandal over allegations of poor research standards at another company, British Biotech.

Consequently PPL's shares have since slipped to around the current price of 133.5p.

See also:

09 Jan 98 | Sci/Tech
Dolly ... The Next Generation?
24 Feb 98 | Sci/Tech
Dolly's creators clone a calf
26 Aug 98 | Sci/Tech
The race to clone the first human
07 Sep 98 | Sci/Tech
Scientist says he will clone himself
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