LONDON - The U.K. government awarded a grant of £600,000 to PPL Therapeutics plc and the Roslin Institute for research to protect the U.K.'s lead in cloning by nuclear transfer.

The grant, to be matched by £600,000 of funding from PPL itself, will be spent on a three-year project to improve the precision of genetic modification using nuclear transfer. The aim is to develop techniques for removing, as well as replacing, genes, and thus to produce proteins it was not previously possible to generate in transgenic animals.

Alan Colman, research director of PPL, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, told BioWorld International, “This project will give us greater control over the cloning, so the fact that the government has put its hand in its pocket is a sort of endorsement of the technology. The government is keen to protect the U.K.'s lead.“

The grant was given under the Link scheme, which is intended to increase the commercial value of basic research by giving public funding to projects on the condition that this is matched equally by funding from commercial sources.

PPL and Roslin, also of Edinburgh, collaborated on the development of the nuclear transfer technology that in 1997 produced Dolly, the first cloned sheep. The partners also reported last week Roslin has granted PPL an exclusive worldwide license to use nuclear transfer for production of therapeutic and nutraceutical proteins in the milk of transgenic ruminants and rabbits.

In April this year the Roslin Institute formed a start-up company, Roslin Bio-Med plc, to commercialize other aspects of nuclear transfer, notably its use in the area of xenotransplantation. The company, set up with £6 million from the venture capital company 3i plc, is 42 percent owned by the Roslin Institute.

“Under the Link scheme the partners have to agree how to deal with intellectual property [IP] before the project starts,“ Colman said. “I can't divulge how we have agreed to split IP, but it is different from the original project, where Roslin developed nuclear transfer and we came in later. We're on the starting line together on this one.

“PPL could have funded the whole project, but I don't think that would have resulted in a better outcome in terms of intellectual property,“ he observed. “Roslin is very happy because it represents the best of both worlds for an academic institution to attract both commercial and government grants.“

Roslin Bio-Med has an exclusive license to develop nuclear transfer technology for all biomedical applications of the precise genetic modification of livestock, excluding those applications covered by Roslin Institute's agreement with PPL.

In the first two to three years it will concentrate on extending the technology to pigs to produce organs for xenotransplantation. *