LONDON -- One of Europe's leaders in transgenic technology, Pharming Group NV, said it will close farms and move transgenic animals from its home base in the Netherlands in the face of a government ban on nuclear transfer. The company said the further development of nuclear transfer is an absolute requirement to maintain its position in transgenic technology, and it is moving cattle from Polsbroek and Oldeholtwolde to its farm in Finland. Earlier in the year, nuclear transfer research was transferred to subsidiaries in Belgium, Finland and the U.S.

Hans Herklots, a company spokesman, told BioWorld International that Pharming "used to produce transgenic animals by microinjection. But this technique is being superseded by nuclear transfer, which is currently banned in the Netherlands, so we are having to transfer our activities out of the country. As a result, there is excess capacity on our farms in the Netherlands, where animals are produced by microinjection."

Public debate continues over the technique, with an official report earlier this year showing that the public was in favor of its use for the production of medicines, but less supportive of its use in agriculture. "For the moment, the rules are that we can't perform nuclear transfer in this country, a ban which is also affecting academic research groups," said Herklots.

Nuclear transfer is generally regarded as safer and more efficient than microinjection. Pharming, which specializes in the production of medicines in the milk of transgenic animals, claims the process has two clear benefits: it is safer for the animals involved, and allows more rapid generation of transgenic herds, resulting in shorter development times. The company said the "further development of nuclear transfer is an absolute requirement to maintain the leading position in transgenic technology and to enable the company to produce medicines for patients with unmet medical needs." Pharming has been awarded the FDA's orphan drug status for transgenically produced human alpha glucosidase for the treatment Pompe's disease [acid maltase deficiency], a lethal hereditary muscle wasting disease.

Herklots said there has been no government reaction to the decision to move such prestigious work out of the country. Herman, the world's first transgenic bull, and Holly and Belle, two cows generated through nuclear transfer, will stay in the Netherlands as symbols of the company's lead in this technology, Pharming said, and Pharming will continue to control nuclear transfer operations from its headquarters in Leiden.

In June this year, Pharming floated on the pan-European exchange, Easdaq, raising US$50 million. *