- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

It could be the meow heard ‘round the world. The Frankenkitties have arrived.

The world’s first genetically engineered, hypo-allergenic cats are now a reality, according to Allerca Inc., a San Diego-based biotechnology research group that announced yesterday that it had bred a cat that does not cause wheezing and hives among the allergy-prone.

The kitties are a true “scientific breakthrough,” said chief executive Megan Young.

It is a cultural moment. The company calls the Allerca GD (genetically divergent) cat “the first of a planned series of lifestyle pets.” Priced at $3,950 each, the cats are the product of selective breeding and genetic alteration to suppress Fel d1 — a certain kitty protein found in fur and saliva that triggers vexing allergic reactions. They are shorthaired cats, of course, with roots in the easygoing “RagaMuffin” breed, the company says.

“People who have been unable to own a cat because of their allergies can now enjoy a pet of their own without the associated risks and costs of allergy treatments,” Miss Young said.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, a Manhattan allergist, said he has much sympathy for the nation’s 30 million allergic cat lovers who struggle with medications, air filters and other means to foil sneezing and wheezing.

“I like to consider myself reasonable and open-minded,” he said. “I don’t have all the scientific data on these cats, so I can’t truly speculate or draw a conclusion yet. Cat allergens are among the most potent on the planet, and if they can lessen them, that could be very helpful.”

His own research revealed that dark-haired male cats seem to prompt the worst symptoms.

“Still, I worry about the effects of exposure to lesser levels of the allergen over time. Patients might lower their guard and forgo important evaluations or treatments in the future. It remains to be seen what the real world experience is going to be,” Dr. Bassett said. “There are very few perfect solutions out there.”

The company has conducted trials, exposing cat allergy sufferers to the newfangled anti-itch cats and “non-GD cats,” and found that the latter brought on an immediate attack of hives, breathing difficulties and swollen eyes in the test subjects. The 12-week-old kitties — which arrive by private jet with cat toys — will be available next April.

It may mark the end of a seven-year race between Allerca and Denver-based Transgenic Pets, another group that has been researching the potentially lucrative field of allergy-free pets since 1995. There has been ill will between the companies in recent years; Trangenic sued Allerca for deceptive trade practices, misappropriation of trade secrets and other charges. An out-of-court settlement was reached last year.

Orders, meanwhile, are coming in at Allerca.

“It’s well worth the wait,” said Nina Greenburg, a Manhattan mother of two whose whole family is allergic to cats.

She plans to call the new arrival “Achoo.”

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