Two upstart companies — Transgenic Pets and Allerca — are attempting to apply to cats the same basic methods of genetic manipulation that make farm animals and crops heartier.

They want to make cats produce less of the protein that sets off allergies in some people. No hypoallergenic kittens exist to date, and the science, though theoretically possible, has plenty of practical challenges.

Now add to those problems a catfight between the two outfits. On Dec. 14, Transgenic Pets, based in Denver, filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles-based Allerca, alleging that the latter’s chairman and CEO, Simon Brodie, violated nondisclosure agreements when his company began to advertise its plan to breed and sell hypoallergenic cats last fall. On Jan. 31, a federal district court judge in Colorado issued a 10-day restraining order against Allerca that orders the business to pull down its Web site, stop contact with investors, and cease collection of deposits from potential customers.

Transgenic Pets was founded in 1999. Its founder, Dr. David Avner, says he met with Brodie, a potential investor in the company, in early 2004. Brodie ended up walking away from any deal in the fall but also agreed that he would honor confidentiality agreements he signed, Avner says. “Our position is that he breached our noncompete agreement and is using our material to market his own company,” says Avner.

Brodie, who founded Allerca last year, declined to comment on the suit, but the Allerca Web site was still live on Feb. 3. “This isn’t going to affect Allerca in the long term,” Brodie says, adding that the hypoallergenic cat is just one project he plans to pursue.

Those plans are expansive. Allerca issued a press release on Jan. 15, announcing that it will charge $5,000 for its future cats, instead of the $3,500 originally planned. “Tens of thousands” of people have sent refundable deposits, Brodie says, since he started marketing a few months ago. Sales could top $1 billion by the end of 2007, he estimates.

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