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 and there is a lack of knowledge about it." '
Lennox went on to be head-hunted to become the New Zealand Government's biotechnology chief - 'Industry New Zealand Director Biotechnology' - after Prime Minister Helen Clark named biotechnology as one of three sectors that held the key to New Zealand's prosperity.
There was a special link between biotechnology in Scotland and New Zealand. PPL Therapeutics, the company behind Dolly the Sheep, had part of its operation in NZ where it maintained over 3,500 sheep on 440 acres of farmland. In 1996, the New Zealand authorities had granted PPL approval to import semen from Scotland taken from sheep genetically engineeredto produce a medicine.
But in January 2002 the icon of Scottish biotechnology was diagnosed as having a form of arthritis that would usually only be expected in older animals. The following year the decision was taken to 'euthanase' 6-year-old Dolly after a veterinary examination showed she had a progressive lung disease, again a condition more common in older sheep. Sheep often live to 11 or 12 years of age.
By September of 2003 PPL Therapeutics had decided to sell its assets and shut its doors. This followed its loss of 18.6 million pounds in 2002, up from a loss of 12.7 million in 2001. In April 2003 PPL had announced it would not be building the drug manufacturing plant that Scottish Enterprise had been so keen to underwrite, saying that the venture was too 'risky'. New Zealand was left with a large herd of unwanted GM sheep on its hands.
By 2003 Scottish Enterprise's international advisory board member, Hugh Grant, had become Monsanto's President after his predecessor resigned because of the company's flagging fortunes. Grant had joined Monsanto in Scotland in the 1980s. In October 2003, and with Grant now in charge, Monsanto announced it was pulling out of the European cereal business with no GM products to show for its investment. (Monsanto to quit Europe)
For links to sources: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=118&page=S
2.Liquidation For Dolly The Sheep Firm?
10/03/2004 07:42 AM - Reuters
PPL Therapeutics, the Scottish biotechnology company that helped clone Dolly the sheep, has seen its share price tumble after saying it was almost certain to go into voluntary liquidation.
PPL said non-executive directors had failed to win the support of a key shareholder for a proposed scheme to buy back shares that would have de-listed the company and placed it under the ownership of executive directors.
"It is therefore almost certain that the group will be put into a members' voluntary liquidation," PPL said in a statement.
By 2 pm, shares in PPL had fallen nearly 10 percent to 4.5 pence, making it one of the biggest losers on the London market.
PPL said in June its German partner [Bayer] had frozen plans to develop a lung drug and it was then dealt a further blow in September when UK hedge fund Metage Capital, a major investor, refused to back plans for its remaining project, an anti-bleeding surgical glue, a source close to the matter said on Tuesday.
Metage Capital is the company's largest shareholder with a holding of around 20 percent, the source added. Metage Capital declined to comment on Tuesday.
The board will now consider a resolution that the company is put into liquidation at an AGM, the date of which is expected to be set within weeks if not days.
Besides achieving fame as the first firm to clone an animal, PPL also cloned pigs capable of providing organs for humans.
Dolly the sheep died at the age of six and is now a stuffed exhibit in an Edinburgh museum.
3.PPL collapses- Is Monsanto Next?
GE Free New Zealand PRESS RELEASE 11.3.04
The breakdown in negotiations to prop up PPL Therapeutics has lead to a total share collapse - and likely bankruptcy of the company behind New Zealand's longest-running GE trial.
PPL's demise could be the first in a series of company failures that could hit New Zealand 's biotech industry. Even major global players like Monsanto looking shaky after years of restructuring, spinning-off and legal battles over damage caused by Monsanto, or its subsidiaries.
"This could be the future of biotech worldwide, as decades pass and it still fails to provide the miracles it promised to financial backers," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free New Zealand in food and environment. "It is sheer foolhardiness and arrogance on behalf of the government to force the public to pay for it and allow GE to contaminate New Zealand's seed stocks and environment when the market, certainly for GE food, has collapsed."
" PPL's collapse shows that funds need to be demanded up-front from biotech firms to cover compensation for damage that they are trying to avoid liability for," says Mr Carapiet.
Recent reports of contamination in US are so serious that even companies the size of Monsanto could be demolished when the legal chickens come home to roost. Monsanto has recently applied to sell GE wheat in New Zealand and Australia in what could be a last-ditch attempt to recoup massive investment, in a product that the international markets have totally rejected.
Since our government cut funding to the scientific fraternity around 15 years ago, liaisons have been forged between overseas interests and our research establishments who now have only partial funding from the public purse.
Companies like PPL have joined forces with AgResearch to develop cloned GE cattle with human genes. But independent scientists have called for more ethical alternative research to be given priority, and warn that mixing of human genes into farm animals is asking for trouble.
"Even the Royal Commission advised against using food-type animals and plants for so-called 'pharming'," says Mr Carapiet.
Recently George Monbiot writing for the UK Guardian newspaper stated that far more money comes from government to cover the costs of GE experiments. In the UK, for example, it funds 26 projects on GM crops and just one on organic farming. Monbiot says "If scientists want a source of funding that's unlikely to be jeopardised by public concern, they should lobby for this ratio to be reversed."
The proportions of funding spent on GE as opposed to organic are similar here in New Zealand. There is a lost opportunity from government pushing money into GE rather than alternative scientific research that will not harm vital ecosystems.
GE Free NZ will continue to ask the government to halt GE trials and releases as the only viable approach to preventing irreversible harm to public health and the NZ food supply.
Jon Carapiet - 09 815 3370