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Protherics questions validity of funding; HI-TECH: Assembly criticised.

Byline: JAMES PRITCHARD London Reporter

A SENIOR manager at one of Wales's leading high technology firms has challenged policy makers to start taking notice of his company.

James Christie, who is operations director for bio-tech firm, Protherics spoke yesterday of his frustration over the lack of recognition in Wales given to the ground-breaking research and development done by his organisation.

Protherics currently employs 84 highly-skilled scientists and technicians in Blaenwaun, Ffostrasol in rural West Wales, but Mr Christie said that despite current plans for expansion and a burgeoning reputation for innovation, the company still feels left out in the cold.

"I don't think it is a deliberate thing but it is definitely the case that the National Assembly and Welsh Development Agency often give the impression that they don't really know we are here, " he said.

"The emphasis still seems to be on things like automotive manufacture, electronics and steel.

"There is a lack of understanding about what we do and how to help us."

Mr Christie said a recent visit by First Secretary, Rhodri Morgan, to the plant in Ceredigion had helped to raise its profile but that there still needed to be real thought given to how grant regimes could be used to help cutting-edge research operations.

"With things like Objective One funding we are aware that the money is out there, " he said.

"But it seems harder to actually access than getting blood out of a stone.

"Currently we are considering a pounds 1.2m investment in a freeze-drying suite, which would significantly increase our capacity and provide employment, but there does not seem to be the kind of regime existing where you can get help with investment like that.

"We would like to see some sort of scheme where the National Assembly would match-fund something like that, perhaps take some equity in return, and make the investment as a partnership."

Mr Christie also confirmed yesterday that due to the success in the US of the Crofab anti-venom produced by Protherics the company was planning to take on an additional 17 scientists and technicians in West Wales.

The anti-venom, which is made by giving small amounts of rattlesnake poison to sheep, then isolating the antibodies they produce, has proved a huge success in the United States and is tapping into a potentially huge market.

"When we launched the product we felt the market was probably about $US30m, but now it has grown to nearer $US70m.

"Our product is very pure and doctors are giving it to people with quite minor bites, something which never used to happen with the other products - and now our competitor has stopped manufacturing their antivenom.

"There are other plans in the pipeline as well which could bring growth, so we are very pleased with how things are going."

Innovation

PROTHERICS launched an innovative new drug for use in the treatment of heart patients recently.

The company has used the same antibody technology, which it developed to cure snakebites, to counteract the effects of heart drug Digoxin.

Digoxin is used to regulate the heartbeat of patients but a side effect of its use is that it can become concentrated in the heart muscles.

Now Protherics has developed the DigiFab product, which is based on an antibody which will remove the potentially harmful Digoxin residues from the blood stream.

The product is to be initially launched in the US where there is currently a potential $US20m market.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 9, 2002
Words:573
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