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Posted : 2009-09-11 20:36
Updated : 2009-09-11 20:36

US Company Drops Commercial Cloning


Lou Hawthorne, CEO of BioArts, snuggles with Mira, Chingu and Sarang, the three clones of his deceased dog, Missy, in this 2008 file photo. / Korea Times File
CEO Accuses Korean Rival as ‘Black Market’ Cloning Business

By Kim Tong-hyung
Staff Reporter

A U.S. bio-tech company that had been involved in commercial dog cloning said it will discontinue the business after the failure of legal efforts to prevent its South Korean rival from offering cloning services.

In an e-mailed statement, Lou Hawthorne, the chief executive of the California-based BioArts, condemned the RNL Bio in Seoul as ``black-market cloners,'' and also claimed that the occasional physical anomalies of its cloned puppies proved that cloning is a technology ``not ready for prime time.''

BioArts has completed the delivery of healthy cloned dogs to the five clients for its commercial cloning services, the company said.

The exit of BioArts leaves RNL Bio as the world's only company involved in the commercial cloning of animals. It recently announced plans to open a 16,500-square-meter canine cloning center in Gyeonggi Province next year, where it plans to produce 1,000 cloned dogs per year by 2013.

BioArts had been insisting that it holds the sole rights to clone dogs, cats and other mammals, which it licenses from Start Licensing. The Texas-based Start Licensing had acquired the rights for the technology developed for the cloning of Dolly the sheep, owned by the Roslin Foundation.

The international dog fight reached court when Start Licensing filed a lawsuit against RNL Bio for patent infringement in October last year.

However, Hawthorne characterized Start Licensing's legal response as ``too little, too late'' and that that the value of BioArts' license from the company as ``basically worthless.''

``It became apparent that Start was unwilling either to commit to defend their cloning patents against infringers or grant to BioArts the right to do so on their behalf,'' Hawthorne claimed.

``Start was afraid to defend their patents against challengers in the dog cloning space because if they lost, they might also lose the ability to control markets they actually cared about ― mainly agricultural cloning. Start's strong preference was to do nothing to defend the dog cloning market against patent infringers.''

In closing its cloning business, BioArts also ended its partnership with Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which is led by the disgraced gene scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who became a pariah of the science world after his landmark studies on cloned human stem cells were exposed as fraudulent.

However, the 2005 cloning of Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog, happens to be one of Hwang's verified achievements.

The competition between BioArts and RNL Bio in cloning services had pitted Hwang against his former colleague, Seoul National University (SNU) researcher Lee Byeong-cheon, who participated in the Snuppy project. After being initially courted by Hawthorne, Lee eventually decided to work with RNL Bio.

``Dr. Hwang and the Sooam team were actually a pleasure to work with,'' said Hawthorne

In earlier conversations with The Korea Times, Hawthorne criticized RNL Bio for destroying the cloning market by aggressively lowering prices, calling the Korean company's activities ``dumping.''

In his recent statement, Hawthorne claimed that RNL Bio, in its continuing efforts to slash prices, will end up compromising animal welfare, which he called one of the most expensive aspects of the process.

``Every time RNL offered dog cloning services for $150,000, they also announced that the price would fall to $30,000 or so in the near future. Who in their right mind markets a luxury service by announcing that the price will soon fall by 80 percent,'' Hawthorne said.

``Ra Jeong-chan, President of RNL Bio, either drove us out of the dog cloning market by ignoring international patents and promising price points he knows he can't fulfill ― in which case he is as devious as he is unethical ― or he has singlehandedly destroyed a high-end niche market by grossly overestimating its size and grossly underestimating the optimal price, in which case he has died and taken us with him.''

thkim@koreatimes.co.kr

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