Antibody treatments, wellness testing, health chatbots and Tinder for dogs

Anything we do for human health is being translated into veterinary services for cats and dogs, too, with companies developing everything from wellness testing to pet health chatbots. DNA testing has some immediate uses in purebred dogs and cats with their hereditary health problems, but genetics can go a lot further — as cutting edge antibody treatments are being developed for dogs and cats with cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Some of the animal healthcare may even have an impact on human treatments, as it can often be quicker to launch and develop for the pet market. Learnings from these early pet pioneers can be fed back into human medicine and may end up helping the owners, too.

PetMedix: Antibody therapies for cats and dogs
Antibody therapies for treating diseases like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis are still right at the experimental edge of human healthcare. But these treatments could be soon extended to dogs and cats too, thanks to Cambridge startup PetMedix.

“Dogs and cats get cancer just like we do — in fact, the incidence is higher than in humans — but they don’t have the same range of therapies available to them,” says Tom Weaver, founder of the 2019-founded startup.

It’s not as simple as taking human antibodies and putting them in dogs or cats. They just won’t work or will be rejected. You have to take the human antibody technology and apply it to a whole new set of genes for dogs or cats.

For a long time, says Weaver, there were concerns that this would be so expensive the treatments would be far beyond what pet owners would be willing or able to pay. But Weaver, whose own background includes viral oncology and working on viruses related to HIV, says PetMedix has developed a system which would allow them to bring costs down.

The 35-strong team of scientists, including Allan Bradley, whose antibody development company Kymab was recently bought by Sanofi for more than $1.1bn, has built a platform in which allows them to create dog and cat antibodies in a transgenic mouse and then purify them for mass production using gene sequencing.

Once you have isolated the antibody it is easy to grow it in volume inside cells, “a little bit like brewing beer,” says Weaver.

The first therapies they have planned will be for targeting cancer and inflammation — Weaver keeps exact plans under wraps for now for commercial reasons. The company says that it has so far proven that its therapies work in the lab, and is now beginning the first series of clinical trials.

It will take at least 4 years to get regulatory approval, so the antibody therapies are unlikely to be available on the market until 2025. It takes around $20m and 4 years to bring an animal therapy to market, Weavers says. But that is a snip compared to the development process for a human drug, which costs upwards of $1bn and at least 8 years.

Weaver’s dream, eventually, is to be able to feed some of their learnings back to human antibody therapies.

“In time we hope we will learn from the results of our animal therapies things that will translate back to human antibody therapies. There may be therapies we can try out faster and more affordably in dogs and feed that back into the human therapeutics,” he says.

In the meantime, the company is raising a Series B round, which it hopes to close this spring, to help finance the team during the development process. The company has also partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim, the pharmaceuticals company with a big presence in animal healthcare, to co-develop drugs. “It is a major external validation of our approach and our team,” says Weaver.

Also included in this article are:

  • Bisu: Wellness testing for pets
  • Felmo: Vets are not just for video
  • Feragen: Tinder for pets

Maija Palmer is Sifted’s innovation editor. She covers deeptech and corporate innovation.