LONDON - PPL Therapeutics plc formed a 50-50 joint venture with Celentis Ltd. in New Zealand to produce human proteins in the milk of cloned transgenic cattle.

Celentis, the newly formed commercial arm of AgResearch, the largest government research body with a staff of 1,300, has developed its nuclear transfer techniques to the point that it has cows that are carrying cloned transgenic calves.

PPL CEO Ron James, CEO of PPL, told BioWorld International, "Celentis came to us suggesting a collaboration because they needed access to our technology. Our contribution is the intellectual property. Their contribution is proven skills in cloning, plus the necessary money to develop the first three lines without us putting anything in.

"This joint venture adds products to the pipeline without impacting on near-term cash flow and enables PPL to leverage its patent position in nuclear transfer."

The partners have agreed to three initial projects - to produce myelin as a potential treatment for multiple sclerosis, human serum albumin for the treatment of burns and either bile salt-stimulated lipase or a nutraceutical product, depending on New Zealand government approvals.

The joint venture also will offer its services and technology on a contract basis.

James said myelin had been chosen as the first product even though it is likely to take longer to commercialize because Celentis already was well advanced on the project. The cows that are in utero have been modified to produce human myelin.

Responsibility for purification of the proteins probably will be subcontracted to PPL, generating additional revenue for PPL from the joint venture. Milk will be skimmed in New Zealand and then frozen for transport to PPL's manufacturing facility in Scotland.

Celentis will fund the development of the founder cattle for the first three products, and thereafter the joint venture will be equally funded by the partners. The joint venture will have access to PPL's exclusive rights to nuclear transfer patents for the production of human proteins in the milk of ruminants and rabbits. These patents are owned by the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where Dolly, the first cloned (but not genetically modified) sheep, was raised.

PPL itself concentrates on producing proteins in the milk of sheep and rabbits. James said, "There are some proteins for which you need large volumes. That's the only advantage of cattle. Otherwise, because [cattle] take longer to rear, other animals are better."

In August PPL, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, sealed a deal with Bayer Corp. for its lead product, alpha-1-antitrypsin. Bayer will fund Phase III clinical trials in the treatment of cystic fibrosis and market the product worldwide.