Roslin turns to business with new animal health venture

line graph on blue background
(geralt / PD)

The University of Edinburgh's The Roslin Institute has been keeping busy with animal health research, but now, the center is setting its sights on business. It is launching a company, Roslin Technologies, to commercialize its findings for the animal health and agriculture industries.

Roslin, along with Edinburgh-based private equity advisor JB Equity, are raising £15 million ($21.3 million) to get the company up and running. The venture "will offer opportunities for investors looking to capitalize on the growing demand for food and agricultural products," Roslin said in a statement.

"We are seeing an ever-increasing appetite for investment in technology advancements in animal health and agriculture and Roslin Technologies will provide a channel for those funds to help accelerate these projects," JB Equity Chairman Martin Hjorth-Jensen said in a statement.

A team of investment managers with expertise in animal science, big data and project management will lead the new company. Eventually, the venture could spur the formation of licensed spin-off companies, Roslin said.

Roslin's focus on business comes at a pivotal moment. The center has already made headlines for its work cloning Dolly the sheep, and Roslin recently generated more buzz for using gene-editing techniques to create disease-resistant pigs and chickens.

Researchers at the center edited a gene linked to African swine fever, called RELA, to make pigs more resilient to the virus. Scientists changed 5 letters in the RELA gene in farmed pigs to mimic the gene in warthogs and bushpigs, which could give the animals more of a fighting chance. The effort marks the first time researchers have successfully made changes to an animal's genetic code using gene editing, the team said last month.

Roslin scientists are also working on developing gene-editing technology to combat bird flu, which continues to take its toll on the world's bird populations. "Superchickens" created by the center have an extra gene that blocks the transmission of bird flu.

The technology has already caught the eye of Cobb-Vantress, a poultry breeding and genetics business owned by Tyson Foods. The company in 2014 said that it would sink almost $1 million into a 3-year research initiative at Roslin. But Cobb-Vantress is holding off commercialization plans for now, reflecting an industry-wide hesitance to jump on the gene-editing bandwagon.

- read the statement