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Cloned lamb sends PPL shares soaring

Shares in PPL Therapeutics, the biotechnology group, soared 52.5p yesterday to 387.5p after it said it had been granted an exclusive licence for the technology which created Dolly the lamb, hailed as the world's first cloned animal. PPL also said it had filed a patent to protect the new scientific techniques.

Ron James, managing director, described the success with Dolly, which has an identical genetic make-up to its six-year-old "mother", as "a major scientific advance" which would underline PPL's leading position in "transgenic" technology.

"This new breakthrough will open up the possibility for a variety of additional products to be produced economically by PPL. Some of these products could not be produced by existing technology - for example, human serum albumin used in the treatment of burns and other traumatic injury."

PPL was floated on the stock market last year to commercialise a process by which human proteins can be synthesised in large quantities in genetically altered or transgenic animals.

Dolly was the result of work done by PPL's scientists working with the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh. Roslin, which was established as a government research operation, has agreed to give PPL an exclusive licence for the technology in exchange for undisclosed royalties.

PPL already has a flock of sheep from a transgenic father, created by injecting DNA into an embryo and placing it back in the womb so that the animal is born in the usual way. Dolly has involved taking a cell from a six-year-old "mother" to replace the genetic information in an unfertilised egg.

Alan Colman, PPL's research director, said the cloning process would allow scientists to single out more productive animals. At present five to 10 transgenic sheep have to be created in the hope that one will prove to be a productive animal. The cloning process would eliminate that process, resulting in more cost-efficiency, Mr Colman suggested.

PPL's lead product is Alpha 1 Anti Trypsin or AAT for treating cystic fibrosis, which is currently in early-stage human trials. The proteins used in AAT are milked from the transgenic sheep before processing.

Mr Colman held out the prospect that the new cloning technology could also help deal with currently untreatable diseases such as BSE and scrapie. He suggested that the cells which cause the diseases might be able to be removed from cattle and sheep, making them resistant.