Researchers at work in the pig laboratory at Awarua.
Pig cell production for a ground-breaking diabetes
treatment is set to double within the year, and Southlanders
involved with the Auckland Island pig quarantine facility at
Awarua, near Bluff, are determined to ensure the expansion
happens in Southland.
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and Venture Southland's Steve
Canny met biotech representatives in Auckland last month to
persuade them Southland was the best location for the
he treatment involves transplanting pig pancreatic islet
cells into the abdomens of unstable type 1 diabetes patients
to boost insulin production and help regulate blood glucose
levels. The Auckland Island pigs are vital in this process,
because they are the only pigs in the world which are
The treatment, known as Diabecell, is owned by a joint
venture company Diatranz Otsuka Ltd, in which Living Cell
Technologies (LCT) and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals Ltd have a 50%
interest. LCT planned to expand pig cell production by 100%
and wanted to move the facility further north, in part to
reduce cell transportation costs, Mr Shadbolt said.
Awarua's Auckland Island pig quarantine facility. Photos
However, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals supported the facility
staying in Southland and further discussions would be held in
Tokyo in June, with the hope of finalising the agreement, he
said. Mr Canny, Venture Southland's enterprise and strategic
projects group manager, said doubling the size of the operation
Otsuka had taken on board the need to expand the operation
and was considering a proposal to increase production at
Awarua, he said. Southland's location, climate and proven
skills in animal husbandry made it the ideal location for the
quarantine facility, he said.
In a Southland Express column on January 31, Mr Shadbolt
claimed biotechnology projects involving the Auckland Island
pigs could bring in a bigger return to Southland than the
dairy industry within the next 20 years.
LCT was also trialling the use of the pigs' cells in the
treatment of other conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Mr
Shadbolt said last week. If other diseases could be cured
using the Auckland Island pigs, production could quadruple,
''They are the most magic pigs in the universe.''
Selling animals as meat did not make as much money as selling
them as a health product, he said. LCT chief executive Dr
Andrea Grant said the company was reviewing its pig
requirement and expanding the Awarua facilities was one
option the company was considering for its next growth phase.
''Currently, we anticipate having one facility in the South
Island and another in the North, because some degree of
geographical separation in the herd is ideal for quarantine
The clinical trials were on track to be completed by 2015 and
a product could be commercially available by 2016, the
company said in a media statement.
Auckland Island pigs
1807: Pigs first introduced to Auckland Islands as
food for stranded sailors or visiting whalers.
1840, 1842 and 1890s: Further pig liberations.
End of 19th century: Thriving virus-free pig
population of mixed origin develops largely undisturbed until
late 20th century.
1999: New Zealand Department of Conservation decides
to eradicate all introduced species from Auckland Islands.
Invercargill man the late Ross Fraser rescues 17 pigs and
transports them to Invercargill, where Mayor Tim Shadbolt
pays to house and feed them using the mayoral contingency
2009: Living Cell Technologies quarantine facility
built at Awarua, near Bluff.
2013: About 70 pigs housed at Awarua.
- Petrina Wright.