PPL joins Pentagon's germ warfare fight
By Benjamin Wootliff
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)
March 17, 2001
PPL Therapeutics, the biotechnology company that cloned Dolly the sheep, has been hired by the United States defence department to foil potential germ warfare attacks.
The Scottish company has been given $3.1m by the defence department's research agency DARPA to clone cows genetically engineered with antibodies designed to counter "unconventional pathogens" – military terminology for germ warfare weapons. Defence officials have become increasingly concerned that rogue states such as North Korea and Iraq have developed germ warfare weapons using virulent forms of diseases such as anthrax and tuberculosis. PPL plans to take cow cells and replace some of the bovine genes with human antibody genes. These antibodies will then be manipulated to combat germ warfare attacks. PPL will then take the cow cells and clone complete cows, which will in turn be bred to produce a herd of antibody producing cows.
However, the technology could take several years to develop. It could also help fight other diseases, said PPL managing director Ron James: "The department wants us to get the cows to produce the antibodies to defeat germ attacks, but the technology could also be used to develop drugs to combat diseases such as rabies, tetanus and rhesus."
The news came as PPL announced a pounds 45m share sale, to help finance development of its AAT anti- emphysema treatment, stem cell therapies and xenotransplant technology. Mr James said he was confident that investors would buy the shares, despite the weakness in the equity market that caused Aortech to scale back a similar offer: "Unlike Aortech we are not issuing the shares to build up a warchest, nor are any of the directors selling shares and, moreover, the sale has been flagged for months."
PPL said losses last year shrank to pounds 12m from pounds 14.4m in 1999 as the company cut its spending on research and development. Mr James said R&D spending will now rise again following the joint venture agreement with German pharmaceuticals company Bayer to develop its AAT treatment. The anti-emphysema drug will enter stage III clinical trials "within months".