The collapse of the company that cloned Dolly the sheep is a salutary lesson in the dangers of hastily investing tens of millions of dollars in poor science, Green Party Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said today.
Biotech entrepreneur PPL Therapeutics has pulled the plug on all but one of its GE experiments worldwide, including its farm at Whakamaru, near Tokoroa, where it was breeding genetically engineered sheep to try and produce an enzyme to assist patients with cystic fibrosis.
"The Greens have long argued that projects to genetically engineer cows and sheep to produce pharmaceuticals have put the cart before the horse," said Ms Fitzsimons. "Sheep and cattle are put through intrusive and unethical procedures to cause them to produce a human protein in their milk before that protein has been tested to see if it has any medical use.
"US trials on the protein which PPL's sheep at Whakamaru produce in their milk have not been particularly successful, which is presumably why PPL's partner, Bayer, has forced the closure - leaving behind at least 1,000 genetically engineered sheep with the human AAT gene, and a lot of angry shareholders.
"The correct process would have been to first test the protein, which is already available from human sources. If a successful treatment could be developed from it, the next step would have been to determine how sufficient quantities could be made.
"Only when other avenues had been exhausted should the ethical debate occur, over whether it is ethical to put human genes in animals and use them as factories.
"I believe the real motivation for PPL's haste in this case was to patent the GE process using sheep. The rush to patent GE technologies before they have yielded any benefits is driving poor science - which makes for poor business."