Robert Phelan started Taconic Farms in 1952 to supply mice to researchers working at academic institutions in the New York City and Boston vicinity and the emerging drug industry in New Jersey.
“At that time, breeding of rodents was a farm-type operation,” says Sam Phelan, Robert’s son, now CEO of Taconic. There were about 20 rodent breeding operations based in New York’s Hudson River Valley in the 1950s, but Robert Phelan had a vision to bring a scientific orientation to the rodent-breeding business with several early innovations.
One of the most important Taconic initiatives is the health testing program, known as the International Health Monitoring System, which screens all animals bred at Taconic for 50 to 60 pathogens that infect rodent colonies.
Taconic is the first company to ship mice with a health report documenting the pathogen-free status of the animals. The health and genetic profiles of Taconic’s laboratory animals are precisely checked using PCR technology. Additionally, Taconic performs animal surgeries, produces monoclonal antibodies, and carries out non-GLP studies for its clients.
Taconic experts were also reportedly the first to devise special buildings for breeding animals that use the Isolated Barrier Unit System to prevent bacteria and viruses from entering and infecting animals. The polypropylene Taconic Transit Cage™ protects animals from danger and infections during transport.
Taconic sells many rodent models, including purpose-bred, spontaneous mutants, and genetically modified models. The majority of the transgenic models raised by the company are produced on a contract basis. Taconic currently maintains more than 100 genetically bred strains of mice that are commercially available as well as 1,500 privately held lines of transgenic and knockout mice developed in its special breeding and service division.
Because Taconic has acquired rights to most of the prominent patents that cover transgenic technologies, it can sublicense rights for these technologies to clients through the Taconic Transgenic Exchange™ program. This assures that the appropriate fees are paid to patent holders and creators of transgenic models, Phelan reports, and Taconic handles all the time-consuming and complex license agreements that pertain to transgenic rodent models.
More and more researchers are exploring how subtle differences in the 30,000 genes of the human genome impact various diseases. As scientists consider all of the possible gene variations involved in disease pathways, “there will be an explosion in the need for animal models, especially mice since this work is largely done in mice,” says Phelan. Mice with subtle genetic manipulations can reflect the human response to drugs in the treatment of a disease or factors associated with disease development and progression.
In November, Taconic strengthened its scientific position by buying an 80.1% share of Artemis Pharmaceuticals.
The acquisition of Artemis, now named TaconicArtemis (taconic.artemis.com), allows the company to design, generate, and breed customized genetically engineered mouse models for pharmaceutical, biotech, and academic clients. Models include knock-out and humanized platforms, inducible/reversible RNAi models, ASKA models for studying kinases, and humanized mouse models for evaluating key drug metabolism enzymes in ADME/toxicology preclinical studies.
Taconic Artemis also offers custom-made, genetically engineered mouse embryonic stem cells, which are used at various stages of the drug discovery process or in academic research.
TaconicArtemis provides tools and knowledge to make subtle alterations in genes, according to Phelan. “There’s a big need for custom-generated mouse models whether researchers are studying disease pathways or trying to develop a new drug.”