Media Coverage

Big players signal digital partnerships model but will others follow?


May 23, 2017 - Animal Pharm

By Sian Lazell
Animal Pharm
May 25, 2017

Earlier this year, leader of the newly-combined Boehringer Ingelheim-Merial business Dr Joachim Hasenmaier highlighted how businesses often find advantage in the 'power of two'.

In the digital technology space this concept is especially relevant for big firms that hold investment power but are looking for expertise, and small start-ups that are trying to climb the commercial ladder.

Over the last few years, the animal health industry's big players have increasingly looked towards smaller firms and universities for partnerships as they realise the potential digital technology holds. Boehringer itself is one of these companies.

Sébastien Lafon, global head of digital and marketing services at the firm, highlighted the company's eagerness to advance in technological innovation.

"The world is led by technology companies. Are we at a tipping point for animal health? Maybe not immediately but venture capital is now investing in technology start-ups focused on pets and livestock," he said.

He explained companies such as Boehringer – not traditionally a technology expert – face challenges in the "brave new world" of digital innovation for animal health.

However, he said getting to grips with new technology is a perfect way for animal health companies to breach the gap between themselves and customers via digital marketing, mobile-based apps and data capture resources, including wearables and telemedicine.

Just recently, Boehringer demonstrated how big firms are utilizing partnerships with smaller businesses – or those not specifically focused on animal health – to broaden their scope.

In April, the firm signed up Belgian business SoundTalks to monitor respiratory health in pigs using the latter's audio detection system.

Elsewhere, US feed and agricultural specialist Cargill signed an exclusive deal with Dairy Data Warehouse for the provision of global dairy farm data services to the animal nutrition industry.

Cargill said the deal would ensure its animal nutrition solutions are based on the most accurate data analytics in the dairy industry to better benefit its customers.

Wearables competitive but still alluring

Despite wearables becoming an increasingly crowded space, with many start-ups vying for the top spot, some smaller companies have made strides in attracting larger firms.

For example, in February this year US start-up AGL Technology launched its Vetrax pet wearable in collaboration with Hill's Pet Nutrition.

Vetrax is a smart device designed to be attached to a dog's collar. It uses a sensor to consistently monitor behavioral patterns and pet activity. Data collected by the Vetrax Sensor is then stored and accessible to veterinarians and owners online through the Vetrax Portal and Vetrax App, respectively.

Perhaps one of the biggest companies to purchase a smaller technology specialist is Mars PetCare. The firm – which is the pet food branch of Mars, one of the world's leading food manufacturers – acquired San Francisco-based GPS locator and fitness tracker specialist Whistle for $119m last year.

Academic collaborations give access to innovation

So far this year, Zoetis has signed a deal with agritech start-up Smartbow for the latter's smart eartag system in dairy farming, and spoken about how its specialized digital technology hub located in the UK capital London is driving innovation in a competitive space.

However, aside from partnerships with smaller companies, academia is another area which can lend a hand to big players moving into the technology space – and Zoetis is leading by example in this arena.

In 2016, the company launched a digital innovation center at the UK's University of Surrey, designed to foster the development and adoption of digital technologies in animal health, including wearables, apps, sensors and satellite technology.

In the same year, Merial joined a multi-year academic partnership to explore the use of connected technologies in homes, cars, veterinary clinics or farms.

The firm's US branch partnered with the Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for the Development and Application of Internet-of-Things Technologies. Both are aiming to understand the potential of using connected networks in the animal health sector.

The major benefit to establishing a foothold in academia, for big firms looking to strengthen their grasp on digital technology, is the easy access it gives them to potentially acquire or work with any new innovations or businesses that are spun out of the institution. Although this concept is commonly seen on the pharmaceuticals side of animal health, it is not yet so prominent in the digital space.

In the near future, the animal health industry can expect to see more little-large collaborations on digital technology before the pace of acquisitions picks up.

Reprinted with permission of Animal Pharm News

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