ANIMAL MODELS · Taconic Farms builds $10-million facility in Midwest to raise, ship rodents
BY MARK D. UEHLING
January 15, 2005 | So you want to overnight a mouse? A few hundred mice? There are limits to how long such creatures can or should be in transit. Which is why Taconic Farms of Germantown, N.Y., a leading purveyor of laboratory animals, has built a $10-million facility in Cambridge City, Ind. The new center will allow express shipping of rats and mice to Midwestern science hubs.
Taconic Farms is a 52-year-old, family-owned company. It sells, among other creatures, the Fischer 344 rat (used to study cancer, toxicology, and aging) and the SCID and C57BL/6 inbred mouse (to study immunity). The company recently added obese and diabetic mice, not to mention transgenic strains that include the apolipoprotein E knockout mouse used in heart disease research. Simple outbred mice sell for $5 a piece. Mice bred for short-term carcinogenicity testing can cost $475 each.
Creatures of Conformity
To give customers the same mice throughout the world, Taconic's Donna Gulezian says, the company monitors the animals for disease and houses them under identical conditions. It has facilities in California and Europe, but the new Indiana location is the next step in a global expansion. Gulezian says: "There is a sense from our investigators that they would like to be able to obtain their resources more locally. They may not do advance planning, but need to meet a need immediately."
Quality control, standard operating procedures, and infrastructure will be exactly the same in Indiana as at any other Taconic facility. Pharma customers running the same assays or experiments in several locations want to be assured that the technology in question — even if that technology has whiskers — is identical.
So the company goes to significant lengths to ensure not only genetically identical organisms, but also mice with the same good general health. In one instance, Taconic discovered that a university researcher working with HLA-B27 mice reported unusual symptoms that included skin lesions.
It turned out that the scientist had not followed all of Taconic's recommendations for proper care. "That's typical of academic labs," Gulezian says. "This question of the consistency of the models can be eliminated. They don't have to spend a lot of time testing — we do that for them."
Another key component of the company's growth is its ability to let mouse users in industry use third parties' intellectual property. Taconic licenses genes from more than 70 institutions. "We obtain not only the right for us to commercialize the technology, we also obtain the rights for us to enable our end-users to use the IP," she says. "We pass on our rights. That's a very important distinction."
It was a distinction missed, she says, by rival mouse breeder Charles River Laboratories, which required buyers of the OncoMouse to negotiate separately with its inventor, DuPont. "What we want to do is reduce any obstacles," Gulezian says. "We know that our users want to be able to use pilot studies without going through all kinds of processes with their own legal departments."
Taconic can house animals at its own sites, and manage any study a sponsor desires. Overall, Gulezian says, the company will ship 10 percent more mice this year than last. "There were predictions that animal use would go down. In fact, genomics is just making animals more specific, more relevant, and the data that people get more useful."