By Sian Lazell
October 4, 2016
US start-up AGL Technology is in the process of bringing its Vetrax pet wearable to the US market. With the company poised to launch its leading technology, Animal Pharm analyst Sian Lazell caught up with AGL's chief operating officer Joe Young to learn what makes the firm's wearable stand out in the fast-growing digital technology space and the business' plans for global expansion.
In an effort to secure a foothold in the world's largest companion animal market, pet wearables specialist AGL Technology is preparing for the imminent commercial launch of Vetrax in the US.
Vetrax consists of a small base that can be attached to a dog's collar of any size and a sensor that clips into the base to consistently monitor behavioral patterns and pet activity.
The device needs to be charged around every 21 days. It was designed so it can be easily taken out of the base to do so and snap back into place, without having to remove the dog's collar.
Information from Vetrax is uploaded and analyzed in the Vetrax system – accessible to the veterinarian through a web portal and the pet owner via an application on their smart phone.
It is precisely these aspects that go some way to demonstrate how AGL focused on designing the technology with veterinarian and owner accessibility in mind.
For a veterinarian, pet data appears on individual medical cards on the portal which can be arranged so that a select few can be viewed at any one time, based on factors such as certain behavior ranges, set dates or set alert ranges.
"If there are 100 cards, sorting through all of them to find the ones that are relevant would be a bit of a challenge. But on any given morning, if you can have 10 of these, for example, that fit a certain data range or that you'd set a date for to see them again within a few days, it becomes less demanding," chief operating officer of the Georgia-based firm Joe Young explained to Animal Pharm.
"We've had feedback from veterinarians on mainly two things. They don't want to increase their workload and they want a way to manage the process that's effective for them, to fit in with how they would normally schedule to monitor the animal.
"For example, if a dog has a dermatologic condition and the vet puts an intervention in place, they certainly want to see the scratching behavior decline. The veterinarian would know you're probably not going to see a lot of change in the first 24 hours but they might set the system so that they can see data from that animal in two days.
"They can then see if there is a normal behavioral pattern that is expected, such as a linear decline in scratching, or if data has deviated from what is expected and an intervention is not working. Then they know if the pet needs to be seen again and if they need to intervene in a different way."
Opening up vet, owner communication
Mr Young said the firm has been given feedback on such cases, where veterinarians were able to intervene in a different way and make sure the pet did not have to suffer for longer. Additionally, Vetrax enabled both owner and veterinarian to be "on the same page" regarding the animal's health.
The technology is designed so the veterinarian and pet owner can communicate efficiently with each other, using the connection between the Vetrax veterinarian portal and mobile app. Both parties can use the system to take photos or send messages, which Mr Young explained is especially helpful as an animal's symptoms are not always present at point of examination.
He added Vetrax "provides a standard score card for both parties to look at" because it is an objective, not subjective, reporting system. AGL believes Vetrax's ability to continuously monitor a pet prevents inconsistencies in reporting of symptoms, whereby one owner may see symptoms at their worst but another may see symptoms when they are not as severe, which can lead to vets being given an unclear picture of a health problem.
As an example, Mr Young said symptoms of puritis are graded on a scale of 1-10. However, one person on one day may describe symptoms as a 10, whereas another on different day may label them a 7. He explained owners can only hazard a guess over a pet's experience but with Vetrax, the pet is directly communicating its symptoms and behaviour 24/7, enabling vets to identify a baseline they can then work from when determining treatment options and response.
Partnership with Hill's
In January this year, AGL entered into a strategic marketing alliance for Vetrax in the US with Hill's Pet Nutrition.
Commenting on the partnership, Mr Young said: "We're a start-up with a vision of what we can do for the veterinary community globally. We're collaborating with a company that has innovated in the field of nutrition for decades. Their focus has been the veterinary community and bringing innovation through nutrition. They now see an opportunity for innovation beyond nutrition alone.
"Hill's vetted the whole wearables technology area very aggressively – and they chose us. They chose us because of the unique technology we've developed and the focus we have on the veterinary channel.
"That's the perspective on one side and on the other, we are a new start-up company needing to have a presence globally. It's a perfect marriage – it gives us a global reach to the veterinary community for innovative technology that we believe is going to change the practice of veterinary medicine."
Mr Young told Animal Pharm although the firm is focused on its partnership with Hill's at present, AGL's original business model included the aim to work with multiple partners – something which the firm still sees as an opportunity.
He said the original business model is "still very much in play" but AGL have been focusing on initially bringing Vetrax to market and establishing a solid presence. In terms of future collaboration, he said the size of businesses AGL may partner with is not important, as long as they have the same vision.
Projected global expansion
Despite its initial focus on the US, AGL has plans for global expansion in the future – and the UK may be its next stop. Mr Young said the company has spent some time in the UK this year and has "a desire to get to that part of the world". However, any official plans for expansion will likely be announced later in the year or early 2017.
Speaking about what makes Vetrax stand out in such a quickly evolving space, he said: "There are three elements of Vetrax that we believe make it very unique. The first one is a very strong, initial and continual focus on the veterinarian. We believe that sensor technology in pets needs to have a veterinary focus.
"The second is that our sensor will be more capable than anything in the market place when it arrives, based on our ability to finely detect animal behaviors – very specific behaviors. And the third element is that we believe this space is going to be a very fast evolving space, so by designing our system around a platform approach, we will be able to adopt those technologies as they become more viable. If you look at those three areas, all three are very unique compared to what's on the market today."
Mr Young added: "Since attending the last North American Veterinary Conference, there are two things we've been working on. One is continuing to build out the interface between the people that use Vetrax, in other words the veterinarian and the pet owner, and continuing to enhance and build out the components that allow them to interface with the system.
"Secondly, we've been conducting an intensive testing program this summer and we're excited about what we've found. We spend a good amount of time thinking about how people will interact with this system and frankly, we've found we've got a lot of that right."
Vetrax technology scope
AGL has already started thinking about how to enhance Vetrax from its current format. Specifically, the firm will consider how the system can be adapted and advanced to fit with user needs that might not have previously been addressed.
Regardless of any potential future enhancements, the veterinarian is always at the forefront of AGL's designs. Mr Young explained veterinarians are crucial to making sense of data that is collected, enabling Vetrax to address a real need rather than just aimlessly collecting activity statistics.
"When we started this process, the veterinarian was the cornerstone of what we planned to accomplish with Vetrax. I think we are one of the very few out there, if not the only one, who has centered their whole business model around the veterinarian," he said.
"We believe very strongly that the information that comes out of this system needs to be married up with the biology so that we can make sense of what we're being told – what the information coming out of it is telling us, what the animal is telling us."
Although AGL is focusing on dogs to start with, the firm claims its technology has the potential to lend itself to different applications across different species – something which it is exploring.
AGL worked closely with the veterinary community and pet owners while developing its technology. However, the company could be set to accelerate its commercial activities over the next few years with deals on the same scale as its alliance with Hill's, as Mr Young revealed the firm has received a large number of enquiries from other companies regarding opportunities for collaborative ventures. Reprinted with permission of Animal Pharm News