Judging by some of the heavy action in the world of biotechnology, one could easily conclude that the industry is going to the dogs. Or cats, maybe.
There are start-ups named Nexvet and VetDC, CanFel Therapeutics (as in canine and feline), and even Fetch Pharma.
It’s a new example of pack behavior: Entrepreneurs with pedigrees from companies like Genentech and Amgen are now turning their attention to pets. They hope to develop innovative drugs for dogs and cats like those that have revolutionized the treatment of diseases like cancer and arthritis in people.
“We’ve been drugging ourselves for a long time and more recently we’ve been drugging our kids,” said Oleg Nodelman, an investor in and director of Kindred Biosciences, one of the new companies. “Why shouldn’t our pets have access to medicine?”
They do already, of course. Many of the big pharmaceutical companies have long had veterinary drug divisions. Eli Lilly’s animal division, Elanco, for instance, sells the company’s Prozac antidepressant under the name Reconcile to treat canine separation anxiety.
But the new entrepreneurs say they will be more nimble and do what the big companies are not doing, just as the early human medicine biotech companies did.
The big companies focus more on livestock — edible animals as opposed to petable ones, said Steven St. Peter, chief executive of Aratana Therapeutics, a pet biotech company. Their offerings for pets are mainly vaccines and treatments for fleas, ticks and worms.
The new companies hope instead to treat diseases like cancer and arthritis. Many are trying to develop monoclonal antibodies, which are proteins made in living cells. Such antibodies, like Humira for rheumatoid arthritis and Herceptin for breast cancer, are huge sellers in human medicine but have had almost no role so far in animal health.