The Case of the Hypoallergenic Cats: Another Syracuse company bites the dust? Not quite.

One of the often-bemoaned things about the upstate economy is that we can't seem to keep businesses in our towns and cities, or attract new businesses.

This morning, I glanced at The New York Times and was excited when I saw this article about cats genetically modified to be hypoallergenic. I remembered reading about a Syracuse start up company that was trying to isolate the gene that produces the protein to which 95% of humans with cat allergies react. The company Transgenic Pets received widespread press in 2001 in such varied publications as The New York Times and the Weekly World News. So I was hoping to see some news about an upstate success story.

Unfortunately, the story is a somehwhat fluffy (pun intended) piece about Allerca, of San Diego, a company with a waiting list over a year long to adopt one of their cats. So what happened to the Syracuse company? Was this perhaps another casualty of the much-maligned inhospitable business climate in Upstate New York? A little investigation was in order.

The founder of Transgenic Pets, David Avner, was an emergency room doctor in Syracuse when he started Transgenic Pets. After moving to Denver, an investor named Simon Brodie approached him about investing in the company, and signed a non-disclosure agreement in order to view Transgenic's business plans and patent applications, and incorporated Allerca with Avner as President, promising to invest $2.5 million in the company.

The money never came, and Brodie went to California and incorporated Allerca there within a month, and set up shop taking deposits on cats which have yet to be delivered. Transgenic is suing Allerca.

According to a 2004 article in the Denver Business Journal, David Avner was still an emergency room physician, but was now located in Highlands Ranch, CO. Why he relocated there from Syracuse is not addressed in any of the articles I found on Transgenic, nor is it addressed on the Transgenic subsidiary Felix Pets website.

While I can't seem to find a reason that the infant company left Syracuse, the cause of its problems is most certainly Simon Brodie. A very informative investigative peice by the San Diego Union Tribune details his other business ventures and practices, ranging for shady to illegal, and the trail of debt he's left behind.

There are entangled moral and ethical issues surrounding the practice of genetically modified anything, let alone pets.* But the case of Allerca goes beyond that, with some evidence suggesting that there might be fraud involved at best, and cruelty at worst, to say nothing of their infringements against Transgenic. In the Union Tribune article, there are serious questions that the feat of producing 400 to 500 cats in 2007 alone, and 10,000 cats by 2009, is improbable. It will be interesting to see if it can deliver on its promises, and if it can, what action will be taken by Transgenic Pets.

In any case, the genetically modified cat business has washed its hands of Syracuse.


In other animal related news, Catskill Game Farm is closing its doors this Monday. Later this month, the farms residents will be sold at auction.**

If you'd like to adopt a cat, you should visit WildRun, which is where I grabbed the picture of the NOT genetically modified cat above, Ginny, who is available for adoption.

Posted by Natalie

It is interesting to note that Simon Brodie is affiliated with the Geneticas Life Sciences company, of which Allerca is a subsidiary, and that another subsidiary company is Genetiate, which among other things proposes a product/service/something called NightSave Deer, where it implants jellyfish genes into deer to make them phosphorescent and thus more visible to motorists at night. Both the Genetiate website and the Geneticas Life Sciences websites no longer exist, so we can only assume that that idea has been shelved.

** This article says that Owego and Catskill are nearby. Huh?


valiente pavo real deseo said...

Always leave it up to good old Syracuse, NY...

I really liked your article, thanks for writing it.

Did you know about the Animal Liberation and Policy Conference that has taken place in Syracuse, NY these last two years? I never attended the conferences, so I couldn't tell you how they went, but I thought I'd mention it.

They're on the internet at:
Animal Liberation and Policy Conference

If you'd like to check it out, I'm not sure if they are going to have a third annual conference, but if so I'm guessing it would probably be in the coming Spring on the campus of Syracuse University (judging by history [sic]).

Natalie said...

This post, for some reason, gets an unholy amount of comment spam. So I'm turning off the ability to comment further on this post. If you have a comment you'd like to make, please send it in an email to york.staters[at]gmail.com and I'll post it. Thank you!