Nov
3
2004

On Oct. 26, 2004, Allerca, a Los Angeles-based company, announced an intention to create hypoallergenic cats. Since then, the company has received one order per minute for the cats, which will retail for $3,500 and be delivered in 2007. At press time, at least 1,593 people had paid a $250 deposit for the allergy-free British short-hair cats, the first breed that will be available, according to Simon Brodie, president of Allerca. Clients cannot specify sex or color of the cats, he added.

The issue of animal biotechnology is not new, and members of the veterinary community have voiced concern about the bioethics of such advances for many years. In 2002 the National Academy of Sciences issued a paper titled “Animal Biotechnology: Science-Based Concerns” that was funded in part by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). And in 2003, a JAVMA article referenced the creation of CVM regulations on animal biotechnology products. However, no regulations have been issued.

“The government is still studying the most appropriate way to regulate genetically engineered animals, including pets like hypoallergenic cats,” said a CVM spokesperson. “We do not have a timeline on when a policy might issue.”

Allerca’s patented biotechnology is expected to suppress the Fel d 1 protein, which causes allergies, Brodie said. He explained that the gene-silencing technique is delivered to the cat’s body through a virus, which is inserted into an embryo that is then implanted into a surrogate mother. A small amount of the protein survives, Brodie said, but not enough to cause an allergy. The technique has not yet been attempted on a cat, but it has been successful in mice, Brodie said. And while he is confident in the company’s future success, Brodie said that deposits are refundable.

Veterinarians will play an integral part in the lives – and delivery of – these allergy-free cats, Brodie hopes. “Veterinarians are very important to us,” he notes. Brodie expects to recruit 7,500 veterinarians, who will each pay $1,000 to become registered Allerca doctors. Clients not only will pick up the animals from these registered veterinarians, but  also will go to the doctors for treatment. “We want veterinarians who will understand the profile of our clients, who will go [to the veterinary clinics] where we tell them to go,” Brodie added. Allerca cats will come with a health-insurance package that can be used only at the practices of registered veterinarians.

Allerca, a subsidiary of Geneticas Life Sciences, intends to unveil an entire line of “lifestyle” pets, though Brodie would not release details. The goal, he said, is to cure certain breed-associated ailments, such as hip dysplasia, he said. By 2010, the company expects to produce 200,000 cats per year, he said. An online survey shows that the majority of clients would like the next breed to be Maine coon cats.

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