Where there’s pigs . . .

October 20, 2011

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt makes a very amusing story of the day in 1999 when a small group of conservationists came to see if he could help save the Auckland Island pigs which DOC was planning to cull.

Life on the island was hard and there weren’t many of them, but the animals which had been isolated and free of disease for so many generations had potential for use in medical advances.

Tim reckoned the special mayoral fund would cover the cost of 17 pigs but he hadn’t taken into account the population growth that would occur when the pigs moved from Auckland Island’s harsh environment to the balmy climate of Southland.

The annual cost of keeping the pigs went from $3,000 to around $13,000 as their numbers increased, the council wasn’t pleased and took the mayoral fund from him. But Tim was optimistic these pigs would more than repay the investment and now they are.

Their isolation had made them the only pigs in the world that were virus free and so able to be used in cell transplants to people for diabetes treatment. By 2008 each pig was worth $350,000.

Living Cell Technology built its first quarantine unit in Southland a couple of years ago and the company has now announced a multi-million dollar commitment to commercialise a diabetes treatment using the Southland-farmed pigs.

Living Cell Technology announced Otsuka Pharmaceutical Factory, of Japan, had committed $31m to a joint venture to create Diatranz Otsuka, a company that would concentrate on accelerating the commercialisation of Living Cell’s groundbreaking cell implant therapy, Diabecell, to treat diabetes.

Diabecell has been trialled in New Zealand, Argentina and Russia, and is designed to normalise the lives of people with type-1 diabetes. It involves being injected with live cells from the unique Auckland Island pigs, farmed in a special multimillion-dollar piggery near Invercargill.

Where there’s Auckland Island pigs there’s money making opportunities and the potential for better health and quality of life for diabetics.

The rising cost of the pigs cost Tim the mayoral fund, but he thinks it’s ben worth it and the story he tells keeps getting better.

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