Shares in PPL Therapeutics, the firm that cloned Dolly the Sheep, soared yesterday as investors hailed the birth of so-called "knock out" piglets, which have been genetically modified to allow their organs to be used in human transplants.
PPL said it would seek additional funding to extend its work on GM pigs, and wanted to attract venture capital interest or a partnership deal with a big pharmaceuticals company. The piglets, born on Christmas Day, have had a particular gene "knocked out" so that their organs are no longer coated with a sugar that would cause the human body to reject them within minutes of a transplant.
PPL is not believed to be the first to have bred GM pigs for organ transplant. A US rival funded by Novartis, the global pharmaceutical giant, is expected to announce this week that it has had similar success
Although PPL raised £32m in a rights issue in November, it will not take its work with GM pigs any further until it can attract outside funding.
Martyn Breeze, the product development director, said: "PPL's strength is in the field of early-stage embryonics and we believe we have achieved a major milestone. Now we need a partnership with a major pharmaceutical firm or extra funding from venture capitalists. We are only at a very early stage in finding that and venture capital funding is more likely."
PPL said yesterday that products based on its technology could be in clinical trials within four years, but it will be the end of the decade before pig organ transplants begin. Its shares rose 24.5p to 77.5p.
Mr Breeze said: "We estimate that less than 20 per cent of people who would benefit from having an organ transplant are currently given one, and the great advantage of cloning is that it provides an unlimited supply of pig organs."
He promised the piglets would have "a long and fruitful life" and would be used to breed further generations of pigs whose organs might be useable.
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