A Guinea Pig That Won't Squeal

USING ANIMALS TO TEST new drugs and cosmetics is both expensive and controversial. Soon, it may be unnecessary. Heartland Biotechnologies in Davenport, Iowa, and rivals are racing to complete testing models using a creature few will get too worked up about: yeast. As simulations of these molecules show (pork at top, yeast on bottom), the cells are remarkably similar to mammalian cells, so they're a good model for human toxicity.

Heartland founder and CEO Maureen A. McKenzie, a former Rutgers University chemical biologist, likes yeast because it's cheap, grows quickly, and is easy to manipulate. Heartland has applied for four patents on its yeast-screening drug research for diabetes and other diseases. It thinks yeast also may reduce the need for animals when testing drugs for cancer, immune disorders, and fungal infections. But Heartland isn't alone. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. plans to invest up to $45 million in New York's Cadus Pharmaceutical Corp. and its yeast-based drug screens.

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