Goodbye Dolly: PPL puts itself up for sale, minus sheep

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Seven months after Dolly the cloned sheep was put down, stuffed and exhibited in a Scottish museum, the company that created her is to get much the same treatment from its accountants.

PPL Therapeutics, whose "nuclear transfer" technology once promised flocks of genetically modified sheep producing life-saving drugs in their milk, is to be wound up. It admitted yesterday that it had failed to get the backing of shareholders for a scaled-down business plan.

Geoff Cook, the chief executive who was brought in two years ago to turn round the biotech group, could not persuade investors that the company has a future focusing on one remaining product, Fibrin I, a glue he believes could help stop bleeding during surgery.

Mr Cook is resigning along with most of the board, leaving the chairman and finance director to oversee the sale of the company, which will be conducted by KPMG and is likely to leave little of the group's £9.3m cash left for shareholders. The costs of winding up the company are likely to eat up most of the remaining cash.

The news brings to an end the dream of PPL's founder, Ron James, of creating a global biotech giant on the back of his revolutionary cloning technology. The company was worth more than half a billion pounds in the wake of Dolly's cloning in 1996, but it has faced repeated criticism for pursuing interesting science at the expense of focused business opportunities, and Mr James was eventually ousted in 2001.

The technology that created Dolly has already been sold, to the University of Pittsburgh last year, and the animal died of lung disease on Valentine's Day at the age of seven. Her premature demise, after a life plagued by arthritis, called into question the science of cloning.

Julie Simmonds, analyst at Evolution Beeson Gregory, said things began to go wrong for PPL at an early stage. "It was always about the technology, and they did not focus on commercialisation early enough. The science has moved on and creating flocks of sheep is not really fast enough, cheap enough or efficient enough for producing drugs. The company needed to change its strategy but it did not have the money to develop its best product. People lose faith," he said.

Mr Cook's tour of shareholders did not yield enough support for his scaled-back plans, particularly since a hedge fund, Metage Capital, has amassed a stake of more than 20 per cent. Metage had campaigned to put a new non-executive on the board to consider winding up the company.

Mr Cook said: "I thought we had a decent plan, but at the end of the day it was difficult to reconcile the need of a different and new shareholder base."

PPL shares nudged 0.13p higher to 5.25p on hopes for the disposal process.

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