BioArts started its cloning services by launching a competition in May 2008, called “Golden Clone Giveaway”, to entice dog owners to enter their dog for future possible cloning. The winner, James Symington, was presented with five puppy clones of his 9/11 search and rescue dog, Trakr, in June of this year.
Also in 2008, BioArts offered a “Best Friends Again” auction for five dog cloning slots. Over Labor Day weekend, BioArts delivered the last of the cloned puppies from this auction, which accounted for the final set of cloned dogs that BioArts will ever deliver.
Cloning Service Discontinuation Reasons
The CEO, Lou Hawthorne, posted a press release on the company’s website listing six reasons as to how the company made its decision to discontinue its dog cloning services. One of the main reasons was the apparent lack of a market for such services. The company’s “Golden Clone Giveaway” was used as an example: the company had hoped to gather market data to determine whether there was indeed a demand for dog cloning services. A free clone of the winner’s dog was the grand prize.
However, although the company had expected thousands of contest submissions, only 237 entries were received, prompting Hawthorne to state:
“Given how few people want to clone a dog when priced at zero, the market for dog cloning is at best a specialized niche. In a niche market, if one cannot capture a reasonably high price for each order, that market is not worth pursuing.”
Black Market Competition
Another major reason, Hawthorne stated, was black market competition. Specifically, a company in Seoul called RNL Bio. Although BioArts International sought legal efforts to prevent RNL Bio from offering any pet cloning services, as a violation of international patents, their efforts failed. Start Licensing in Austin, Texas, granted the worldwide rights to BioArts International to clone dogs, cats and endangered species. Start Licensing’s legal response to RNL’s infringing activities were depicted by Hawthorne to be “too little, too late”, which, in his opinion, resulted in the value of BioArts’ license from Start Licensing as being “basically worthless.”
Since BioArts holds the sole worldwide rights to clone dogs, cats and endangered species, any other company that attempts to do the same would be in violation of international patents.
However, not only did RNL Bio offer pet cloning despite not having a license to do so; it also offered it at a far reduced rate when compared to BioArts fees. In February 2008, RNL Bio advertised its cloning services to be a fraction of the cost of BioArt’s prices, starting at $150,000. A few months later, RNL Bio announced that its fees had been decreased to a mere $30,000.
Hawthorne was quick to state:
“Of course, there is no technical way that [the South Korean company] can deliver clones for $30,000 unless they completely abandon all bioethical safeguards for surrogate mothers who carry the clones to term, and even then it’s unclear how they could make a profit.”
Because of the similarity in both name and services, Hawthorne believes it lead to public confusion that eventually destroyed the specialized, niche market of dog cloning. This was a major cause of concern for BioArts International.
“RNL Bio can only slash the price of dog cloning by ignoring the safeguards we use to ensure the well-being of dogs involved in the cloning process,” Hawthorne said. “RNL will not be able to afford an adoption program for surrogate mothers, nor care for unwanted dogs in perpetuity. Instead, for every dog RNL clones, a dozen or more will likely be slaughtered.”
BioArts International also based their decision to cease their pet cloning operations due to un-scalable bioethics, weak intellectual property, ‘distraction factor’ (which refers to negative media publicity surrounding the cloning business as a whole); and unpredictable cloning results.
Even though BioArts was successfully able to create and deliver many healthy cloned puppies, they also witnessed sporadic “physical anomalies” amongst the pups. This caused the company to deduce that “cloning is still an experimental technology and consumers would be well-advised to proceed cautiously.”
Sooam Biotech Research Foundation
As part of ending their cloning services, BioArts International also ended their partnership with its cloning vendor, Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, and the head of the foundation, Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, in South Korea.
“Dr. Hwang and the Sooam team were actually a pleasure to work with,” said Hawthorne. “Unfortunately, this technology is not ready for prime time.”
BioArts will now focus on the development of advanced tools and services for use in regenerative medicine, including micro-engineered cell culture devices and temperature-controlled bioshippers.
Photo Credit: jurvetson