Media Coverage

PupPod victory at KC investment forum highlights growing pool of pet tech start-ups


Sep 06, 2017 - Animal Pharm

By Joseph Harvey
Animal Pharm
September 1, 2017


Of the 18 companies presenting at the latest Kansas City Animal Health Corridor Investment Forum, five are developing software or technology for the companion animal health market.

Only five years ago, these pet-tech start-ups were nowhere to be seen at 2012's investment forum. This is a sure sign of how rapidly data and software is sweeping animal health. Technology is broadening the horizons of what is deemed innovative in the industry outside the traditional investment destinations of vaccines and pharmaceuticals.  

PupPod secured the judging panel's votes and was handed the innovation award at the event, as well as a check for $10,000. The company – based in Kirkland, Washington – wooed the judges with its smartphone-connected puzzle toy designed to provides mental stimulation that "gets harder as the dog gets smarter".

The company claims: "Dogs who lack a combination of mental and physical stimulation can develop problem behaviors like digging, barking, chewing, jumping, play biting and separation anxiety."  

The company believes millennials are its target customer base "as they actively seek products that connect to their smartphones".

Founded in 2015, PupPod is currently building commercial channels through ecommerce and is also seeking strategic alliances to build further high-tech pet products. The firm has been self-funded to date but is seeking a seed round to help ramp up its business.

PupPod received its winner's check from Karthik Ramachandran, vice president and co-founder of Likarda – a company that recently sealed $4 million in a series A financing round.

More tech presented in KC

Other tech-based business at the investment forum included BabelBark from Newton, Massachusetts. This firm provides a cloud-based platform that connect pet parents, veterinarians and businesses via a fitness monitor and mobile app. Another presenting business was Canadian start-up Future Pet Animal Health, which has developed a software platform for automating client communication, management and intake for veterinary clinics.

Sentier has produced Vetcorder – a vital signs monitor for measuring glucose levels, heart rate, temperature and blood pressure in companion animals, whilst also acting as an electrocardiogram. Vet Innovations is launching its veterinary feeding device in November, with the aim of tackling pet obesity by allowing precise feeding regimes.

Diagnostics and cancer therapies

There were two presenting companies specializing in veterinary diagnostics – another 'hot' area in animal health with the need for more accurate point-of-care testing for both pets and livestock.

Canadian firm Aquila Diagnostic Systems is developing point-of-care molecular hydrogel tests for food-producing animals and pets. Founded in 2009, the firm is currently in discussion with potential partners. The company is establishing a model whereby "the partner pays Aquila to develop a set of diagnostic products and the partner manufactures and sells the products, with Aquila receiving an ongoing royalty".

Principle Imaging is also a diagnostics business. The company claims to have a disruptive technology for the equine imaging market. Its x-ray imaging systems can provide diagnostic-quality images "not currently available" for the equine sector. Principle Imaging is headquartered in Bozeman, Montana.

Another area ripe with start-ups is companion animal cancer therapies. A host of young businesses with a plethora of varying candidates are currently developing oncological treatments for cats and dogs – two were featured at the investment forum.

Lawrence, Kansas-based HylaPharm is developing a covalent conjugate of hydrochloric acid (HA) and cisplatin. The firm has been granted an exclusive license for HA-cisplatin conjugates from the University of Kansas. HylaPharm said it is seeking a strategic alliance with an animal health company for distribution, sales and marketing of its oncology drug. Animal Pharm spoke to the business at last year's investment forum in Kansas City.

Paradox Pharmaceuticals (Memphis, Tennessee) is also in the pet cancer space. The firm is developing non-cardiotoxic and cardioprotective anti-tumor drugs based on daunomustine. The firm believes daunomustine would be complementary and not competitive to almost all drugs currently used to treat veterinary cancers, as well as others in development.

More pet-focused opportunities

In fact, 12 of the presenting businesses were focused on the companion animal market.

Klox Technologies is an Irish business focused on the pet wound care market. The company recently spoke to Animal Pharm about its fluorescence biomodulation technology. As well as wound care, Klox is also focusing on the treatment of pyoderma, otitis and periodontitis. The company aims to launch a light-based gel therapy for pyoderma and wounds in the EU during the second half of 2018.

Stem Vita is focused on regenerative medicine and in particular stem cell factors (SCFs). The firm has exclusive global rights to develop and sell SCFs for equine dermatological, orthopedic and pulmonological treatments. Stem Vita (Escondido, California) is looking for investors and clinical trial alliances in the animal health industry.

Hailing from Gainesville, Florida, AuxThera has commercialized its Trimauxil veterinarian-prescribed dog food designed to help with obesity in dogs. The product's key ingredient is a naturally-recurring amino acid-related compound. Established in 2015, the company has ambitious projected revenues of around $60m by 2020. AuxThera said these projections depend on sufficient financial support.

NeuroCycle Therapeutics (Sheridan, Wyoming) hopes to seal partnerships that will bring its itch and epilepsy products to commercial realization. The company has built a pipeline of drugs that act selectively through specific subtypes of the gamma aminobutyric acid A receptor. NeuroCycle said early proof-of-concept studies in rodents and dogs have shown its itch medicine – the firm's flagship product candidate – can significantly reduce the frequency and duration of scratching within 30-60 minutes of dosing.

Food animal innovation also highlighted

The link between NeuroCycle and Prommune is Dr Sam Al-Murrani, who is a consultant, biochemist and animal health investment specialist. He is actively working with both companies to secure the backing they need for fruition.

Dr Al-Murrani told attendees to the investment forum about Prommune's vaccine platform for tackling infections. The Omaha, Nebraska-based business is working on host-directed immunotherapy – "a reawakening of the body's natural innate immune defences". Prommune is initially targeting swine influenza virus and hopes to harness partners with regulatory and marketing expertise to realize year-five sales of approximately $12m.

Innovation in food animals was somewhat overshadowed at this event by the sheer amount of companies working on opportunities in the canine, feline and equine sectors.

Companies developing products in the food animal space were rather more familiar than their pet counterparts.

Firstly, ViroVet winner of the Animal Pharm award for best start-up in 2015 told conference delegates about its pipeline of antiviral drugs and vaccines. While the company recently sealed a series A funding round, it now hopes to bag series B funding before the end of 2018.  

French firm VitamFero is an established business with $6.5m in funding and $6.1m in grants since it was founded in 2005. The company is developing vaccine and immunostimulants based on its ability to target and fully delete specific genes of virulence from the genome of eukaryotic apicomplexan parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii. VitamFero aims to have its first products commercially available by 2020.

Additionally, in the food-producing animal space is Therio from Manhattan, Kansas. The company claims its mission is to develop enhanced natural hormones "to maximize livestock reproductive efficiency". Therio said US vets have been restricted to a single brand for livestock assisted reproductive technologies. The firm believes it can disrupt this monopoly with its Response dual hormone drug, which enhances the outcomes of artificial insemination, in vitro insemination and embryo transfer.

Heartland Farm Energy has put together a smart ventilation system that converts waste heat and moisture into energy in poultry barns. The firm is a spin-off from the University of Missouri. Heartland's system is used by the US poultry industry to reduce propane costs by up to 50%.

Reprinted with permission of Animal Pharm News

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