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Futuristic Biotech research planned

Media Statement 26 May 2003

Futuristic Biotech research planned

The Foundation for Research Science and Technology is investing in a range of exciting biotechnology research, which if successful, will have major benefits for New Zealand. The fourteen research projects worth a total of $16million are funded as part of the New Economy Research Fund and are leading edge, high risk - but with potentially huge benefits.

The investments in these projects is an outcome of the Foundation's review of its investment biotechnology portfolio. A total of 41 proposals were submitted to the Foundation and 14 have been accepted. These include seven proposals which have been approved because of additional government funding in this years budget.

A major piece of research funded in this latest funding round will focus on developing new cloning techniques that has applications for both agriculture and medicine. While New Zealand is already regarded as a leader in some aspects of cloning, this new research will look specifically at the events necessary to reprogram of donor cells into healthy cloned animals and will underpin new developments in cloning and transgenic research and its future applications in NZ. If the study is successful it will lead to the development of industries based on cloning high value breeding animals and high value pharmaceutical proteins from the milk of transgenic cows. This study will cost $26.4 million and will be spread over seven years.

A research project based at Auckland University and including scientists from Hort Research, AgResearch and Otago University will carry out a $9.2 million study over six years into 'structural biology' which is now a core platform for biotechnology. By understanding the structure of molecules this study could lead to the design of better drugs. It will also provide data to assist in new insect control strategies. The group will have links to US based international structural genomics consortium comprising 25 groups in nine countries.

Finally, Industrial Research Limited (IRL) in collaboration with Otago University and the Cawthron Institute are to undertake a leading edge study in the field of nanotechnology. The researchers hope to make nanometer-sized particles that can be used to target drugs to specific sites resulting in better performance and fewer side effects. Advanced drug delivery technologies are forecast to reach half the value of the world wide pharmaceutical market. This research project will be carried out by a team of young researchers working under the guidance of an established researcher. The $5.9 million dollars programme will be conducted over five years. It is regarded as high risk but if successful may produce some extremely high value, low volume products.

The Chief Executive of the Foundation, Gowan Pickering says as expected with NERF projects, the risks are great, but if they succeed the benefits are huge. He says the Foundation has long signalled it's intention to fund these sorts of projects and he's delighted at the quality of the proposals submitted.

ENDS

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