Although RNA interference has revolutionized the lifesciences, the technology is still relatively unknown to the general population. All that may change, at least for the average pet lover, if Los Angeles-based Allerca achieves its goal of using the gene-silencing technology to develop a hypoallergenic cat.
According to Simon Brodie, the president of the six-person company, the idea to develop the genetically-modified cat has been around for years.
Scientists in the early 1990s identified the genes responsible for producing the subunits that make up Fel d 1, the heterodimeric glycoprotein expressed in feline skin and salivary glands responsible for the majority of allergic reactions to cats. But it wasn’t until the development of an effective method for silencing those genes that the development of a hypoallergenic cat became viable, Brodie said.
“There was [someone] who came up with a similar idea, but it used nuclear transfer,” Brodie told RNAi News. “We were in discussions with that gentleman [about forming a collaboration], but we looked at the cost, the time, the genetic pool it would produce, and we felt that RNA interference would be the way to go.”
Brodie said that Allerca does not plan to develop the cat itself, but rather is looking to partner with an academic institution that has the resources and expertise to support the effort.
“The cost involved in putting facilities together for this specific project [is outweighed by] the benefits of outsourcing,” he said. “So we are in the process of talking to universities here in the US and overseas … and we are going to make our final decision [on a partner] in January.
“There are a number of universities … that have good veterinary departments [and] have got experience with RNAi,” Brodie added. “Really, it’s just whoever comes through with the best total package.”
Brodie said that the first hypoallergenic cats are expected to be ready for sale in the US and Japan in 2007. Ultimately, Allerca plans to produce around 200,000 cats by around 2010, with half being sold in each country.
“We have to build up a breeding pool of about 25,000 queens that will end up producing those 200,000 cats a year,” he said. Brodie added that the cats will be spayed or neutered before they are sold.
Allerca will initially breed genetically modified British Shorthairs, although the company is considering other breeds such as the Maine Coon, and are currently priced at $3,500 each.