Within recent years, there’s been an explosion of pet-related products and vigorous marketing campaigns to promote them – gourmet foods, designer outerwear, luxurious accessories. Mainstream media has aggressively promoted pets as valued family members, and most of us know a dog or two who is pampered and protected on par with a newborn baby! The status gap between domestic animals and their owners is quickly diminishing. So, it’s no wonder that clinical research and pharmaceutical drug discovery is devoting increased resources to pet meds – drugs that address conditions we would normally associate with humans, but that afflict that increasingly important (and profitable) demographic; the four-legged family member.
The need for customized pet medicines
As pets rise in status, so do the number of veterinary practices devoted to supporting and maintaining their health. In 2012, Americans spent an astonishing $53 billion tending to their animal companions – and over $13 billion went directly to vets. However, in the absence of customized animal therapies for conditions like heart disease and diabetes, vets were forced to treat cats and dogs with drugs designed for humans. With uncertainties regarding dosage and potential side effects, results have been hit and miss. It’s no surprise that enterprising pharma companies are zeroing in on animal therapies that take the guess-work out of prescription while satisfying a growing demand for specialized pet care.
Human drugs tweaked for pets
Students currently enrolled in pharmaceutical courses could well find themselves working in drug development for dogs. Kindred Biosciences is just one of several new companies that focus specifically on therapies for dogs, particularly those that target osteoarthritis, atopic dermatitis, and post-operative pain. These new drugs are expected to come to market by 2016. Current estimates evaluate the “animal companion” pharmaceutical market at about $2.4 billion. And it’s expected to expand along with companies like Kindred who focus on repurposing human therapies for family pets – compounds that have already been proven safe and effective.
The allure of the pet med market
For Big Pharma, the enormous cost associated with bringing new drugs to market has resulted in movement away from discovery, toward safer bets like delivery systems. High rates of failure are also a pressing concern for human therapies, 95% of which are rejected during pharmaceutical quality control protocols. But for companies like Kindred, much of the expense and risk has already been invested. While the cost of testing a human drug rings in at around $500 million, pharma companies will only have to raise about $5 million to re-test known and approved compounds for animal use. The availability of proven data, the willingness of animal owners to purchase drugs, and the limited threat of generic competition could make pet meds a highly profitable new venture.