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Corporate Profile : Sep 15, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 16)

Repurposing Biotechnology Products for Pet Care

Firm Finds New Uses for Drugs, Diagnostics, and Devices in Companion Animals
  • Carol Potera

Companies spend billions of dollars annually on the development of human drugs, devices, and diagnostics. Yet many promising products fail to reach the marketplace and their value is never realized. VetDC was started in Fort Collins, CO, last year to repurpose discarded and shelved technologies for veterinary use. The company in-licenses emerging, underexploited technologies from human biotechnology companies, then develops and commercializes them for dogs, cats, and other companion animals.

VetDC’s primary focus is cancer, and its first acquisition in March this year was GS-9219, a molecule discovered by scientists at Gilead Sciences. VetDC holds an exclusive North American license to GS-9219 for veterinary use. Now known as VDC-1101, the antiproliferative agent preferentially targets and kills lymphoid cells.

VDC-1101 is a prodrug of the nucleotide analog PMEG that selectively accumulates in malignant lymphoid cells where it converts to an active form that inhibits DNA synthesis and induces apoptosis. In 38 dogs with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 79% showed tumor regression, as reported in the May 15, 2009, issue of Clinical Cancer Research. To date, about 70 client-owned dogs with cancer have been treated with VDC-1101.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in dogs, and lymphoma is one of the most common canine and feline cancers. Dogs with lymphoma are typically treated with human chemotherapy drugs, but typically more than 90% will relapse within 5 to 10 months. Better alternatives are needed.

“There are no approved drugs for canine lymphoma today, and VDC-1101 has the opportunity to be the first FDA-approved product specifically for canine lymphoma,” says Steven Roy, president and CEO at VetDC. The company plans to test VDC-1101 in cats, too.

Devices and Diagnostics

VetDC is also testing a surgical implant to treat glaucoma in dogs and cats. The novel drainage device is implanted into the outer layer of the eye to relieve pressure that causes pain, discomfort, and blindness. Aqueous Biomedical developed the implant device based on a patented biomaterial.

A third product in VetDC’s pipeline is a point-of-care detection kit for drug-resistant strains of bacteria that plague human hospitals. Drug-resistant bacterial infections are increasingly common in pets and veterinary clinics, too. The technology came from MicroPhage and uses bacteriophage amplification to identify drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus.

University Affiliation

When Gilead Sciences was testing GS-9219 as a possible therapy for human cancer, it turned to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University (CSU) to perform the preclinical animal trials.

“We were quite familiar with Gilead’s early work because of a strong existing research relationship. We were able to acquire a license to this product specifically for veterinary cancer,” says Roy. Leveraging the safety, tolerability, efficacy, and dosing data from the early preclinical studies “gives us a big head start to move quickly to market and dramatically improves our probability of success.” This information will guide the design of additional studies to gain approval for the drug to treat canine lymphoma.

VetDC’s association with CSU provides firsthand contact with many biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that conduct animal studies there. Familiarity with these projects is likely to uncover more emerging technologies with potential for adaptation or modification to veterinary markets. By working with CSU researchers, VetDC also avoids the costs of building its own laboratories and hiring researchers.

Unexplored Opportunities

All new drugs intended to treat human diseases must first be tested in animal models, providing a rich source of data for veterinary applications. However, few biotechnology companies consider targeting veterinary diseases, even though animals and humans often experience similar diseases and respond to similar treatments. “Opportunities to improve the quality of life for companion animals with serious illnesses are too important to go unexplored,” says Roy.

The Center for Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. FDA regulates the development of drugs for pets. “People think it’s faster to gain approval for animal drugs, but that’s not necessarily the case,” explains Roy. The testing of pet drugs often can be as rigorous as for human drugs. “It is critically important that new technologies for veterinary use are evaluated in clinical veterinary settings and optimized for the unique demands of veterinary clinicians, patients, and their owners.”

There are 75 million pet dogs and 82 million pet cats in the United States, and Americans spend $13 billion on veterinary care yearly. Recent surveys show that more than one-half of pet owners consider pets to be members of the family and are willing to spend significant amounts on their healthcare. Even during economic downturns, spending on pet healthcare holds steady. “More and more people are willing to pay for high-quality care for their pets,” says Roy.