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NAO sings praises of cloning institute

Whitehall auditors have held up the commercialisation of the Roslin Institute - where Dolly the sheep was cloned - as a shining example of how to involve private sector capital in public sector research.

Link: NAO says government call centres lack control

Westminster’s chief financial watchdog, the National Audit Office said the two-stage privatisation of the institute’s research into cell nuclear technology and transfer had been well handled.

It said it ensured that the research continued and was not overtaken by foreign competitors.

And it enabled the Roslin, based near Edinburgh, to branch out into stem cell technology.

Following the successful cloning of Dolly, the Roslin Institute – publicly owned and funded – worked with venture capitalists, the 3i Group, to create a spin-out company called Roslin Bio-med.

Forty-two percent of Roslin Bio-med was owned by the Institute, 42% by 3i and 16% by the company’s management team and the two main scientists involved, Ian Wilmut and John Clark.

The managers and scientists had to find thousands of pounds of their own money to make the investment.

Roslin Bio-med was then sold to the Geron Corporation, a biotechnology firm based in the United States.

The NAO says there were ‘clear benefits for the UK from the deal done with Geron’ and said the two deals provided ‘significant additional financing to develop the nuclear transfer technology to any commercially usable level.’

In crude terms, the NAO said the public sector received five times the value of their £10m investment in the initial research, 3i 1.7 times their investment and the scientists and management 16 times the cash they put in.

‘The deals with the private sector avoided the risk that the technology would be overtaken before any benefit could accrue to the public sector,’ the watchdog concluded

It added that the Roslin commercialisation was a blueprint for similar efforts in ‘reaping the rewards of agricultural research’ both in terms of the national interest and the public purse.

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