Pig-cell venture good for southern facilities

SCOT MACKAY
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2011

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A $30 million commitment to commercialise a diabetes treatment using Southland-farmed pigs was announced yesterday, moving a decision on whether the region will house another pig quarantine unit a step closer.

Living Cell Technology announced Otsuka Pharmaceutical Factory, of Japan, had committed $31m to a joint venture to create Diatranz Otsuka, a company that would concentrate on accelerating the commercialisation of Living Cell's groundbreaking cell implant therapy, Diabecell, to treat diabetes.

Diabecell has been trialled in New Zealand, Argentina and Russia, and is designed to normalise the lives of people with type-1 diabetes. It involves being injected with live cells from the unique Auckland Island pigs, farmed in a special multimillion-dollar piggery near Invercargill.

Living Cell medical director Professor Bob Elliott said that with Otsuka's investment, the trials of Diabecell could be refined and the registration for market use could be accelerated.

A Living Cell spokesman said that meant, subject to the treatment receiving government approval, further pig and manufacturing facilities would be needed to ensure supply of the cells within three years.

Venture Southland enterprise and strategic projects group manager Steve Canny said the announcement was good news and he hoped that if the treatment proceeded to market, the pig facilities would be built in Southland.

A group of interested parties had been working hard to ready the region to host the pigs and had designated an area for the facilities to be built. The group also had the ability and innovation to build the specialised housing required, he said.

"From our point of view Southland is a logical location for this type of work.

"We have a credible record of animal husbandry, access to high-quality feed for the animals and a strong human medicine relationship with Otago University," Mr Canny said.

Southland also had the ability to build the facilities as they were needed, so all that could be done now was to make sure Living Cell's board knew about the region's strong position before it made a final decision, he said.

Diabetes is the fastest-growing chronic disease in the world and affects about 220 million people worldwide.

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