How biotech is improving the health of our pets

Almost 66% of U.S. households are home to pets—mainly dogs and cats, but also other animals. As most pet owners refer to them as family members, it comes as no surprise that when their furry companions get sick, it causes great distress.

According to an episode of the I am BIO Podcast, “4 million dogs in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer every year, often the same kinds as humans.” Still, medical treatments for pets, especially small animals, remain scarce, if not unavailable.

Addressing canine cancer

“Dogs are not just little people,” Tammie Wahaus, CEO of ELIAS Animal Health, said on the new episode of the I am BIO Podcast. “Dogs have their own genome, and they respond differently to all therapeutics, but in particular, they can respond differently to cancer therapeutics.”

One of the most common causes of death in dogs is cancer. The Veterinary Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 4 dogs will be diagnosed with cancer. Wahaus said ELIAS was founded to address an unmet medical need in veterinary medicine: oncology.

The initial product by ELIAS is an adoptive cell therapy “designed to train the immune system to not only be aware of the cancer, so not only to recognize the cancer but also, then, through our activated T-cells, give it the power to kill cancer cells,” Wahaus continued.

The company’s treatment recently received U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval—the animal equivalent of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

Valley fever hurts people and pets

In addition to cancer, dogs (as well as humans and other mammals) are affected by another disease: valley fever. This serious respiratory infection is caused by a fungus that’s endemic in the American southwest.

Dave Bruyette, Chief Medical Officer at Anivive Life Sciences, says that when dogs inhale the fungal spores they can develop pneumonia. If they’re not properly diagnosed and left untreated, they can develop disseminated disease, meaning that the fungus leaves the lung and goes to other parts of the body. At this point, they are likely will succumb to valley fever.

That’s why Anivive set out on a mission to develop a valley fever vaccine for dogs. As of this writing, the vaccine is awaiting FDA and USDA approval.

Biotech solutions for cats

“Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is probably one of the deadliest diseases that cats face, unfortunately, both in the US as well as worldwide,” said Bruyette.

About 1 in 300 cats dies of FIP. The infectious disease is present in the US, Canada, Europe, or any place with a large cat population.

“About 80% of cats that come out of a cattery or out of a shelter will test positive for the benign [FIP] virus, and about 50% of pet cats that don’t live in an environment with lots of other cats will also test positive,” he noted.

The FIP diagnosis—especially with the lack of effective treatment—can be devastating. However, Anivive has been working to bring the first effective FIP treatment to market.

“What we’ve been working on is an antiviral treatment specific for the coronavirus that causes FIP in cats. It is a disease caused by a coronavirus, but it is not the COVID coronavirus. And this medication is highly active, not only against the virus inside of a dish but also against the virus in pet-owned cats, who are infected and are ill as a result of FIP,” he explained.

One Health, biotech, and pets

“We’re really a One Health company. We’re focused on not only improving the products available for veterinary medicine, but also working with the human health companies where we’ve licensed our technologies from, helping them advance their products for the good of humans as well,” explained Wahaus.

“The concept of One Health is bringing a new approach to science and healthcare that’s focused on the connections between people, animals, plants, and the environment, and how to achieve the best health outcomes for all living things,” said podcast host Theresa Brady of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).

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