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The New Industry of Manufacturing Pets

April 18th, 2005

Several companies are already involved in pet manufacture and sale, or at least in banking genes (or taking cash deposits) for future manufacturing. They include:

Genetic Savings and Clone (GSC)

Yorktown Technologies

Allerca, aka ForeverPets, aka Geneticas

Felix Pets, aka Transgenic Pets

PerPETuate, Inc.

Lazaron Biotechnologies

The first two are actually selling products; the others are marketing gene banking services or promises.

Genetic Savings and Clone

[Update: Genetic Savings and Clone closed in October 2006 due to lack of demand for cloned cats. In May 2008, a biotech start-up called BioArts International, in which both GSC's Lou Hawthorne and disgraced cloning researcher Hwang Woo Suk are involved, announced a new dog cloning service.]

The billionaire John Sperling (see here) enlisted PR agent Lou Hawthorne in setting up Genetic Savings and Clone (GSC), which sells cloned cats - and soon, they hope, dogs - and "gene banking." GSC is headquartered in Sausalito, CA, with a lab in Austin, TX, and a new facility nearing completion in Waunakee (near Madison), Wisconsin. Texas A&M University, with which Sperling initially contracted to clone pet animals, no longer has any connection with the business.

GSC has sold two cloned kittens for $50,000 each (the price is now $32,000) and made at least four more, from three other "donors," all owned by GSC staff. They had previously claimed they would make "nine lives" in 2004, but clearly fell short; they refuse to say what their target production is in 2005.

Hawthorne claims that the cat division will be profitable in 2005, dogs in 2006 (if they succeed in cloning a dog soon) and the company as a whole in 2007. This does not, however, include the enormous start-up costs. He says they have paid "over $300,000" for cat eggs purchased from spay clinics; they have also been reported as buying million-dollar microscopes and similar equipment. Hawthorne envisages a multi-billion-dollar industry in cloned pets, with thousands produced every year.

GSC claims to use a "more efficient" cloning technology, licensed from the firm Aurox, to produce an average of more than one clone for every two embryo transfers, and to be preparing scientific articles for peer review. This efficiency claim is viewed skeptically by scientists outside the company.

Hawthorne insists that GSC is committed to conducting its business in an ethical manner, and points to the company's "code of bioethics" posted on its website. He also says GSC is "in a fishbowl," with thousands of articles written about it every year.
Closer inspection of the website's press area, however, reveals that this fishbowl is a rather opaque container:

"We strongly prefer phone interviews over on-site interviews for print and radio. For TV, we prefer that stations pull from our media reel. We grant onsite access only to our headquarters, not our labs, and only on a limited basis to select broadcasters."

The GSC "code of bioethics" is a mockery of responsible bioethical practice - it guarantees nothing except that they will do what they want to do. It states, for example, that "Transgenic (gene-changing) work shall be conducted only after a thorough analysis of the respective benefits of the proposed transgenic work versus potential risk(s). We intend to make this analysis public." Similarly, the code of bioethics states that GSC is "open to additional oversight provided that it makes sense."

Ethical codes are meaningful when they are developed by a recognized professional body that holds its members accountable, but the GSC "code of bioethics" serves primarily as a public relations device.

In the early stages of the original attempt to clone a pet dog, a reporter commented that it seemed to be a rather whimsical project, and that "a little bit of that playfulness comes through on [that] Web site." Hawthorne responded: "Yeah. That's the main thing about the project. It's a fun thing to do. It's neat." Hawthorne refuses to reveal how many animals have died in the course of GSC experiments.

The company website is http://www.savingsandclone.com

Paul Elias, "California Company Sells Cloned Cat, Generating Ethics Debate," AP, (December 23, 2004)
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04358/431106.stm

Howard Witt, "'Frankenkitty' or Priceless Duplicate," Chicago Tribune, (March 06, 2005)
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/
chi-0503060439mar06,1,5394598.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

Gersh Kuntzman, "Just Cloning Around," Newsweek, (October 12, 2004)
http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6233068/site/newsweek/

Lou Hawthorne, interview in Japan Today, (November 05, 2004)
http://www.japantoday.com/e/?content=executive&id=170

Wade Rousch, "Genetic Savings and Clone: No Pet Project," Technology Review, (March 2005)
http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/03/issue/brief_clone.asp

Doug Moe, "Clone cats here? Sure, but where?" Capital Times, (December 24, 2004)
http://www.madison.com/tct/opinion/column/moe/index.php?ntid=22325&ntpid=2

Doug Moe, "Pet Cloner Says Dogs Are More Difficult" Capital Times, (February 07, 2005)
http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?ref=tct:2005:02:07:402939:FRONT

Dan Vergano, "Refined Cloning Gets Whisker-Close," USA Today, (August 05, 2004)
http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20040805/6427037s.htm

R.U. Sirius, "Cloning the Pooch," Salon, (March 29, 1999)
http://archive.salon.com/21st/feature/1999/03/29feature.html

Yorktown Technologies

In late 2003, Yorktown Technologies of Austin, TX, began marketing a zebra fish, genetically modified to be fluorescent, under the name "GloFish." The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a notably terse statement found "no reason to regulate these particular fish." (This decision is the subject of a lawsuit.)

The California Fish and Game Commission, however, refused to exempt the GloFish from its ban on transgenic fish, initially citing ethical grounds. In April 2004, the Commissioners backtracked a little, agreeing that they might issue a permit if the company could provide a convincing Environmental Impact Report (EIR). At their October, 2004, meeting, the lawyer for Yorktown objected that this requirement was proving onerous and expensive (an estimated $100,000), and that he had the impression that no permit would be granted in any event. He implied that the company had decided not to pursue it. Fish and Game staff confirm that no further action will be taken unless an EIR is submitted.

"The GloFish really didn't go through any federal review process as far as I understand it. Everything that has an environmental impact should have some sort of regulatory overview. Even children's toys and children's clothes have that - anything that has a potential of moderate risk."
Bill Muir, Purdue geneticist (1)

"This fish sets a terrible precedent.... What if someone [makes] a piranha that could survive in cold waters, so aquariumists wouldn't be impeded by having to buy expensive warming equipment to keep them? Imagine then that someone accidentally sets them free in the Mississippi."
Craig Culp, Center for Food Safety (2)

"GloFish is minor compared to what we could see in the future."
Scott Angle, University of Maryland natural resources professor (3)

"This GloFish fell right through the cracks of federal oversight."
Eric Hallerman, Virginia Tech geneticist (1)

"What scares me the most is that if they start modifying fish that turn out to be predators.... It could cause serious problems."
Walter Courtenay, federal invasive fish biologist (1)

"Some people have criticized the commission for injecting values and ethics into this debate. In fact, the Fish and Game Commission has always dealt with ethics. It was created in part to ensure that hunting was practiced ethically. We still grapple with the issue of "fair chase" in hunting and have rules based on notions of what is ethical in the treatment of animals. I don't think that it is possible to make policy without values, and I know that I would not want to live in a country that divorced values from policymaking."
Sam Schuchat, California Fish and Game Commissioner (4)

(1) Steve Nash, "For Whom the Fish Glow: California rejects GloFish, but the FDA says, 'Let them swim,'" San Francisco Chronicle, 01/11/04
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?
file=/chronicle/archive/2004/01/11/INGHT44JFU1.DTL

(2) The Pitt News, (February 18, 2004)
http://www.pittnews.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/02/18/403378e40c169

(3) Griff Witte, "New Biotech Pets Make Some Uneasy," Washington Post, 03/13/04;
http://www.thecampaign.org/News/march04s.php

(4) Sam Schuchat, "Why GloFish Won't Glow in California," San Francisco Chronicle, (December 17, 2003)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/12/17/EDGQV3KOLB1.DTL

Company website
http://www.glofish.com/california.asp

FDA Statement
http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2003/NEW00994.html

"'GloFish' Won't Be Lighting up the State," Sacramento Bee, (December 04, 2003);
http://www.sacbee.com/static/live/news/projects/biotech/archive/120403b.html

Sam Schuchat, California Fish and Game Commissioner, "Why GloFish Won't Glow in California," San Francisco Chronicle, (December 17, 2003)
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/12/17/EDGQV3KOLB1.DTL

John Keilman, "Some See Fluorescent Fish as Neon Signs of Trouble," Chicago Tribune, (January 12, 2004)
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/
chi-0401120196jan12,1,7037357.story?coll=chi-news-hed

"California Reconsiders Nation's Only Bio-Pet Ban," AP, April 01, 2004; available at
http://www.thecampaign.org/News/april04b.php

Information Systems for Biotechnology (ISB) report
http://www.isb.vt.edu/articles/jun0405.htm

Transgenic Cats

Transgenic Pets, then in Syracuse, New York (later in Colorado), was reported in 2001 to be working with scientists at the University of Connecticut to create cats free of the gene that codes for the protein Fel-d1, which had been identified as a leading cause of cat allergies. However, many scientists are skeptical about the value of the project. Suppressing the gene may have other effects, and removing it will only help a portion of those allergic to cats.

David Avner, M.D., who himself suffers from cat allergies, hoped to raise $2 million to bankroll Transgenic Pets, and to sell the modified animals for $1,000 each. Funding problems put the project on hold for several years, but in 2004 the company incorporated a subsidiary, Felix Pets, to develop this technology, in partnership with, according to their website, "one of the world's premier genetic engineering institutes."

Another company, Allerca, based in San Diego, sells a topical "allergen control system" and in October 2004 Simon Brodie, its chairman and CEO, announced that it was "developing the world's first hypoallergenic cat, expected in 2007." However, they must overcome a lawsuit brought by Avner, who claims Brodie stole trade secrets and violated a confidentiality agreement.

Allerca was previously known as Geneticas Life Sciences, of West Los Angeles, which in turn was the "parent" of ForeverPet, which claimed to be in the cat-cloning business. On its website, foreverpet.com, the firm still (in March 2005) says that it "plans to start commercial horse cloning in 2004." Lou Hawthorne, of Genetic Savings and Clone, said in February 2005 that ForeverPet was the only other company in the field but "they have no staff, no facility, no technology of which we are aware, no IP [intellectual property] licenses and no IP of their own. So we question whether that's a legitimate company."

Allerca has taken $500 deposits from allegedly "tens of thousands" of customers, and is pricing genetically modified cats at $5,000-$10,000, or even more for limited-run exotics. Brodie says, "If we reach production, it'll be $1.5 billion in sales each year." He also specifically cited the GloFish as a precedent for not being regulated by the FDA, the Department of Agriculture or any other Federal agency:

"Obviously, things can change," Brodie said. "But as long as people don't start eating cats and they don't enter the food chain, then we should be handled like the GloFish."

Of course, California has effectively banned the GloFish (see next).

http://www.felixpets.com (transgenicpets.com bounces to this)

http://www.allerca.com (geneticas.com bounces to this)

"Genetically Engineering A Pet? History Shows It Won't Be Easy," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, (January 15, 2002)
http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/jan02/s011502e.asp

"Allergy Free Cats Are History," Sinus News (September 1, 2003)
http://www.sinusnews.com/Articles2003/allergyfreecatshistory.html

Brent Hopkins, "Hypoallergenic Cats Are Billion-Dollar Market, Says Entrepreneur," Los Angeles Daily News, (February 07, 2005)
http://www.timesleader.com/mld/timesleader/business/technology/10839603.htm

Amy Tsao, "A Catfight over Allergy-Free Kitties," Business Week, (February 04, 2005)
http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/feb2005/tc2005024_9532_tc024.htm

Paul Elias, "Company Strives to Create and Sell Genetically Engineered Cats Free of Allergy-Causing Proteins," AP, (October 27, 2004)
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?
f=/news/archive/2004/10/27/financial0454EDT0011.DTL


Other Efforts

PerPETuate, Inc. (Connecticut; http://www.perpetuate.net/) and Lazaron Biotechnologies (Louisiana; http://www.lazaron.com) have both been reported to offer gene banking for pet cloning but how active they are is unclear. The Lazaron website was not available when checked in March, 2005.

Horses have been cloned, but are not eligible for Jockey Club registration:

"...[A]ny foal resulting from or produced by the processes of Artificial Insemination, Embryo Transfer or Transplant, Cloning or any other form of genetic manipulation not herein specified, shall not be eligible for registration." (1)

This means that cloned or genetically modified horses cannot enter the major races. These rules are internationally accepted, and have been made even tighter and more specific in recent years. There are, however, some dressage, show-jumping, harness-racing and perhaps other professional events for which cloned or genetically modified horses may remain eligible. Also, of course, amateurs may have horses that enter no competitions at all.

Brazilian-born artist Eduardo Kac arranged with French scientists to produce a fluorescent rabbit in 2000, as a provocative "artwork" and conversation piece. Selling such creatures as pets would certainly be covered by the proposed California law.

Mice have been cloned, modified and patented for research purposes. Under the proposed California law, such mice could not be used as household pets.

(1) Jockey Club Registry
http://www.jockeyclub.com/registry.asp?section=3

Rick Weiss, "First Cloned Horse Created in Italy," Washington Post, (August 07, 2003)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?
pagename=article&contentId=A25717-2003Aug6&notFound=true

Eduardo Kac's website is http://www.ekac.org/.

Laboratory mice are discussed in detail at this National Institutes of Health site:
http://www.nih.gov/science/models/mouse/reports/index.html

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