Pigs city's best investment, says Tim

SCOT MACKAY
Last updated 05:00 21/10/2011

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Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt believes the council's investment in Auckland Islands pigs has brought about $10 million to the region and it could be one of the city's best ventures.

Living Cell Technologies announced this week about $30m had been invested in to creating a company to accelerate its ground-breaking diabetes treatment, called Diabecell, to the market and Mr Shadbolt feels praise is in order for the council's involvement.

The council helped pay to keep the pigs, which are free of disease after being separated from humans for 200 years, alive when they were brought to Invercargill in 1999 from the Auckland Islands. Their offspring were later used in LCT's trials to treat type-1 diabetes.

The treatment has now been trialled in New Zealand, Argentina and Russia, and the $30m investment means it is closer to commercialising the treatment. That would mean new facilities would be needed to house more pigs – and Southland is in a prime spot to take advantage of that.

Mr Shadbolt yesterday said he was pleased with the announcement and he had arranged meetings with organisations involved with the pigs so he could find out how much money they had brought into the region, to get an independent economic-impact assessment done.

He estimated the construction of the quarantine facility to house the pigs, wages for staff, the cost of feed and the use of Southland-based aeroplanes to transport the pig cells would equate to a $10m income for the region, he said.

"I want to get an independent economic assessment of that so every time everyone looks at the mayoral expenditure it is going to be based on mayoral income."

He believed contributing to the $20,000 spent to bring the pigs to Invercargill and feed them could have been one of the city's best investments and "I think there is kudos for little old Invercargill", he said.

"... It has probably already been the best investment we have made. From such a humble beginning from the Rare Breeds Conservation Society and Mayor's contingency fund, as it used to be called, an international cure has been developed and little old Invercargill is where it all started."

There seemed to be a popular belief that his budget was always in the red, but if the return from his expenditure was looked at it was worth it, he said.

LCT finance and administration manager John Cowan said the building of more facilities to house pigs, if the treatment was brought to the market, would be a gradual process because the company did not want to spend money before it had to, and more trials were needed before the company could apply for product registration.

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He expected the decision to build the new facilities would be made within two to three years.

THE TREATMENT

The treatment involves injecting Auckland Islands pigs' islet cells, which are encased in a protective gel micro-capsule, into the abdomen of people with type-1 diabetes.

It can be administered without any immunosuppressing drugs and produces insulin to help regulate blood glucose levels appropriate to the amount of glucose detected in the bloodstream of the diabetic recipient.

Source: Living Cell Technologies

- © Fairfax NZ News

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