At the end of last year, a California-based company called Allerca started selling a hypoallergenic cat. These allergen-free cats cost $6,950. Even amidst the high price, many cat lovers who have been waiting for a hypoallergenic cat were on long wait lists.
Allerca says that they have sold and delivered two dozen of their cats in the United States and Canada. According to the company, the cats have a naturally mutated gene and therefore do not produce the same concentration of the potent feline allergen Fel d 1.
One owner of an Allerca cat, Judy Smith, says that the expensive price tag was all worth it for her Kiki. She says that Kiki doesn’t make her sniffle and sneeze, and she believes that her cat is truly hypoallergenic.
Some critics may not agree with Smith. Many cat geneticists and allergists from all around the nation are dubious if Allerca has done what they claimed to have accomplished. They have asked Allerca to release their scientific data, but the company has refused and explained that the information is proprietary. Until Allerca proves their claim with scientific data, these suspicious geneticists and allergists just don’t believe that these hypoallergenic cats are for real.
There is also talk about Simon Brodie, the founder of Allerca. He has had a past filled with failed ventures, a criminal conviction, and fraud allegations.
From Boston Globe:
Cat allergens are among the most prevalent in the United States. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 17 percent of people are allergic to cats. The main culprit, scientists say, is the protein Fel d 1, and Brodie is not the only person interested in creating cats without it.
In 2001, Dr. David Avner founded Transgenic Pets LLC with the hope of removing the Fel d 1 gene from cats. Brodie, a potential investor, spoke to Avner about the project. But Brodie never invested in the company and Avner, an emergency medicine physician in Denver, later sued, saying Brodie kept his company’s confidential material.
The two settled in February 2005 with Brodie agreeing not to enter the genetically engineered hypoallergenic cat market until after May 31, 2006. Brodie said a scientist, whose name he said he cannot recall, told him that some cats had a naturally mutated Fel d 1 gene, which would not generate as much allergen. Brodie said another person, whose name he will not reveal, then gave him a few of these cats. Allerca says it bred these cats and ultimately produced kittens with a mutated Fel d 1 gene.
“The body does not see it as an allergen,” Brodie explained by phone from Delaware, where he recently moved his company from California. “The body does not recognize it as an allergen. Even though it’s the Fel d 1 protein, it’s a different makeup of the protein.”
Cat geneticists say this might be feasible, but they say it is also fairly unlikely. The fact that Brodie refuses to document the science, through an independent study or in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, leaves many skeptical.
And then there is the question of his past. In 1994, according to the English newspaper the Argus, Brodie was convicted in England of seven counts of false accounting in connection with the collapse of a hot air balloon company called Cloudhoppers. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Brodie said he served less than a year and later came to the United States.
Dr. Dale Umetsu, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School and an allergist and immunologist at Children’s Hospital Boston, said it is possible that Brodie has delivered on his promise and created a hypoallergenic cat.
But Umetsu is skeptical. About a year ago, he contacted Allerca, asking if he could study its cats and perhaps publish an article about its work, he said.
Their answer, he said, was no.