The Government is handing biotech entrepreneur Living Cell Technologies (LCT) over $4 million to boost its work on transplanting pig tissues into people suffering from type-1 diabetes.
The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has invested $4.04m in LCT, to be matched by the company.
Professor Bob Elliott, medical director and co-founder of LCT, said he expected to have robust, positive results later this year from a clinical trial under way at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital, where researchers are implanting eight Auckland diabetics with insulin-producing pig cells
The company wraps the cells in a seaweed gel so that they are not detected and rejected by the patient's immune system, avoiding the necessity for immunosuppressive drugs.
It has already reported promising progress with its first patient, a 48-year-old man.
Science Minister Wayne Mapp said today that science that directly boosted economic growth through effective market-driven research was a key element of the Government's agenda and the new funding for LCT would help the biomedical technology sector and the high-tech therapeutics industry.
"LCT is on the brink of a real breakthrough in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes," he said. "The technology has the potential to reduce the suffering of people with Type 1 diabetes. It is estimated that this disease affects over 10 million people worldwide," he said.
Taxpayer funding has previously been given to the company not only for the diabetes work, but also for transplanting brain cells from piglets as a potential therapy for Parkinson's disease.
The company is looking at testing the brain cell transplants in China, because New Zealand requires specific ministerial approval for experimentation on chimpanzees and other primates.
The company has about 50 pigs farmed in quarantine at Invercargill for their tissues, descended from feral animals brought back after the species was isolated on the Auckland Islands.
LCT executives have previously said they would require about 3600 pigs producing 18,000 male piglets for slaughter to treat 1200 patients.