$4m boost for pig-cell treatment

By Audrey Young

The Government has given a $4 million grant to biotech company Living Cell Technologies to fund clinical trials and commercial production for pig-cell-based treatment for type 1 diabetes.

The grant is on top of $3.4 million previously given to the New Zealand-based company listed on the Australian stock exchange.

The New Zealand shareholding is 21 per cent.

The pig-cell treatment is based on work pioneered by Professor Bob Elliot.

Research, Science and Technology Minister Wayne Mapp confirmed yesterday that there were no special conditions attached to the grant.

But he said LCT was on the brink of a real breakthrough in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

The clinical trials would test Diabecell, a treatment using live cells to normalise the blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetes patients.

"Diabecell will be a high-value exportable product that has the potential to open up a new industry in New Zealand," Dr Mapp said.

The return for such grants was in exports and jobs, he said, rather than an equity stake.

There had been an exception with the $15.2 million grant to Zespri to develop Zespri Gold kiwifruit.

Asked if he was looking at making future grants from the foundation conditional on some similar pay-off for the taxpayer, Dr Mapp said: "It is one of the issues for consideration, I have got to say, particularly for the larger-scale investments."

The LCT grant was made through TechNZ, the investment arm of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Material released by Dr Mapp said LCT was a substantial operation with 38 staff, significant assets, laboratory and pig farming facilities in New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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