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Common ground

Human biotech leaders would welcome a closer relationship with animal health interests.

Common ground
Working with human health companies that developed similar products removes much of the research and development cost in animal health.

This past spring, a group gathered in snowy Dedham, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. The theme of the Human Biotech and Animal Health Business Partnering Summit was the need to explore collaboration between human and animal health. Organized by Kiasco Research, the meeting also highlighted how the veterinary community can benefit. Here’s how:

1. Lessen the risks of product development by working with human industry partners that brought a similar product to market.

Similarly, bringing products to market that used animal models means less time to market and a reduced risk of demonstrating effectiveness. Put another way, “Preclinical work for human therapeutics and diagnostics is done in animals. This is a big de-risking step for animal health,” wrote Chris Tam, Ph.D., CEO of Integrated Nanotherapeutics.

Working with human health companies that developed similar products removes much of the research and development cost, said Alan Schneyer, Ph.D., CEO and chief scientific officer at Fairbanks Pharmaceuticals.

2. Meet the veterinary community’s needs by using products that demonstrated efficacy in human health care.

For instance, George Colberg, CEO of Kalos Therapeutics, identified the economic benefits to human and animal companies. “Human health care companies are looking to leverage large animal studies and uncover near-future revenue streams,” he said. Further, “This opportunity should foster partnership and collaborations, while providing new products to the animal health industry and opportunities to expand sales, revenue and brand share.”

3. Expedite the development of animal health products by using resources available in human health care.

Because there is more investment within human health, it “always get[s] the newest and most advanced technologies in both therapeutics and diagnostics” before animal health care, according to Dr. Tam. “Working with human health, animal health can get access to these advanced technologies sooner.”

SIWA Corp. CEO Lewis Gruber, MS, JD, said: “Partnering with human health care companies [gains the animal health company] access to the cutting edge of technology, which tends to be developed first for treating human ailments even when these ailments are common to animal health care as well.” For example, Gruber described this process at his former company, Arryx Inc.: “Arryx partnered with Genus LLC to use laser tweezer nanobiotechnology to sort the sperm of cattle for gender selection to improve animal breeding efforts. This collaboration resulted in a commercial product provided by Genus.”

4. Exploit research that has demonstrated continuity between disease characteristics in both people and animals.

Mark Prygocki, CEO of Illustris Pharmaceuticals, sees many synergies in the development of human and animal technologies. His company’s permeation technology exploits the similar structures within human and animal tissues. Capitalizing on research that demonstrates these similarities allows Illustris to develop products that would show efficacy in both human and animal health.

Kalos’ Colberg is developing human cancer drugs and simultaneously developing a parallel animal health track. These companies are helping to respond to both human and animal needs at the same time.

5. Take advantage of the faster time to market in animal health by developing veterinary products with human companies and then licensing the products in human health care.

Fairbanks’ Dr. Schneyer said: “From the animal health perspective, taking drugs approved for or under investigation for use in humans provides a much shorter and cost-efficient path to approval for animal use. Toxicology testing has already been accomplished and dosages that are effective without causing side effects are known for humans, so it’s relatively straightforward to design and execute animal tests to get data for the USDA application for approval.”

Build Relationships

Although some big pharma companies have developed and spun off animal health divisions, Colberg said plenty of opportunities are available. The participants outlined three ways to build relationships between human and animal health companies:

1. Establish commercial relevance and market opportunity.

Without a product market fit, there is no use exploring further potential. Possible market opportunities come from understanding diseases present in both people and animals. Devoting time to exploring previously unidentified applications across species might be sufficient to begin understanding new market opportunities. Part of this process involves looking for unmet needs within an underserved population, Colberg said.

Certainly, pharmaceutical blockbusters are substantially smaller in the veterinary space, but the development resources are equally proportional. As such, if we are looking for relative gains and not absolute gains, then both human and animal biotech companies are equally well-positioned to realize potential new revenue streams.

2. Understand the animal health drug-approval process.

A clear point of similarity and difference is the drug-approval process. Although similar in structure, insofar as both human and animal pharmaceuticals have to seek federal approval, the governing agencies are different. A consultant and presenter at the conference, Linda Rhodes, VMD, Ph.D., explained the approval process for both.

For human drugs, devices and biological products, there is a single agency: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For animal drugs, there are the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Veterinary Biologics and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Each needs to be engaged for different reasons: the Center for Veterinary Medicine for animal drugs, veterinary devices and animal feed or feed additives, the Center for Veterinary Biologics for most veterinary biologics, and the EPA for most veterinary pesticides.

Donovan Yeates, MS, Ph.D., the CEO of KAER Biotherapeutics, said: “The need for people working in human health to have a clearer understanding of the animal health industry is a prerequisite for them to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the lower development costs, speed to market and equivalent return on investment.”

3. Attend conferences and engage with entrepreneurs.

The easiest way to explore novel applications and new relationships is to go to summits like the one Kiasco organized. Dr. Tam, of Integrated Nanotherapeutics, also recommended attending the BIO International Convention and human disease conferences, such as the American Diabetes Association’s annual scientific sessions. In addition, if animal health companies reached out to human biotech companies, then unforeseen opportunities might emerge.

Great Potential

The comments heard and enthusiasm shown at the summit proved that we are just beginning to explore the overlap of human and animal health. The discovery of diseases that present analogously in humans and animals, the burgeoning investment in the health care space, and the growing number of pet owners combined with the delay of child-rearing years means that the opportunity for animal market growth is in its infancy.

By attending more conferences, seeking out new market opportunities and reaching across the human-animal health divide, we will be able to create more opportunities for any of us looking for better health outcomes.

Innovation Station columnist Dr. Aaron Massecar is executive director of the Veterinary Innovation Council.