What happens when the co-founder of pet health biotech start-up Petmedix meets the co-founder of the Veterinary Tissue Bank and recently elected Chair of the RCVS Fellowship Board on a train? Jolyon Martin and John Innes discuss all things monoclonal antibody, the potential impact for companion animal health and welfare, and a therapeutics market ripe for disruption.
Jolyon: You have had an impactful career as an RCVS specialist in small animal orthopaedics and as Professor at the University of Liverpool before moving to lead specialist services at CVS. Arthritis and veterinary molecular genetics were strong themes in your research. What do you see as the potential for precision medicine in the veterinary sector?
John: Clearly the advances in the molecular understanding of health and disease has opened up new targets for therapy, whilst enhancing efficacy and safety. The sequencing of the genomes has accelerated this along with huge advances in bioinformatics. Arguably, the biggest barrier is translating the basic research into clinical practice and the funding models for that.
Jolyon: There have been over 80 FDA-approved monoclonal antibody therapies for the human health market. Do you see these therapies becoming widely applicable in companion animal medicine and if so, what impact do you predict they will have on animal health and welfare?
John: I remember the birth of monoclonal antibody (mAb) therapy in human medicine very well. I was a PhD student in rheumatology at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in the early 1990s and I remember the rheumatologists’ excitement when they saw the anti-TNF antibody therapy break on to the scene. There has since been an explosion of mAb therapies in human medicine and these have transformed lives and improved outcomes. There is huge potential for mAb therapies in veterinary medicine with a major impact on animal welfare.
Jolyon: We have seen the first canine mAb for pruritus become a worldwide blockbuster drug. With further developments in the pipeline what do you see as the potential impact of these therapies on the animal health market?
John: Indeed, the first mAb for dogs has been very successful and this is a clear proof of principle. There are many chronic disorders in dogs and cats that could benefit from mAb therapy: arthritis, immune-mediated disorders, allergic disorders, chronic pain, lymphoma, other cancers, to name but a few. There is certainly potential to add a whole new tier to the animal therapeutics market.
Jolyon: The animal health market is showing strong growth as pet owners invest more time and money in their pets, parallel to the humanisation of pets increasingly seen as members of the family, the advancements in animal health and technology and the increased knowledge of pet owners through internet-based education. In your opinion, what are the most important factors driving this and do you believe this growth is set to continue?
John: Yes, there is clear data showing that pet owners are spending more and I think that demonstrates an appetite for increased care of their pets. It is difficult to credit one factor, but I think the advances in technology including better diagnostics and more effective, safer therapeutics gives more choice to clients, and some clients want to explore the best options.
Jolyon: Finally, how important do you think it is to ensure the One Health cross-over of expertise and innovation in the human and animal health sectors?
John: Having a track record in human mAb therapeutics provides a wealth of experience and all sorts of transferable skills that are needed to bring a product to market. It is good to see vets being involved from the early stages, because whilst One Health is a great concept and one which I support, there are important species differences, and indeed breed differences, that need to be considered. Equally, there will be discoveries in canine and feline research that may well inform human medicine; it can only be a positive thing.