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Pet projects
02-03-2006
by Randall C. Willis  |  Email the author
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Whenever an old boss of mine wanted to tell the staff something that he felt would rock our world, revolutionize science publishing, and bring world peace, he would always start his oration with a reference to the movie The Graduate. Standing before us with a big smile, he would say "Plastics". Well, at the risk of managerial copyright infringement: "Pets".
 
I have been writing about the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries for about six years, and lived the adventure for about a decade before that, and yet in all that time, reading countless magazines, newspapers, and web sites, I have yet to see a serious discussion or market analysis about veterinary medicine.
 
Sure, there have been articles in the popular press about the "taint" of farm animals by growth hormones and antibiotics, and an entire industry has built up around free-range, chemical-free, all-natural cows, pigs, and chickens. But what I am talking about here is a discussion of the process and profits behind medicines for household pets.
 
All the science and trade magazines talk about the drug discovery process and the various hoops through which scientists jump to get potential products through clinical testing, manufacturing, and to market. But where is the discussion about drugs for Fido's melanoma? Does he get the same medication as you and I? How was it tested? How much does it cost?
 
I believe it was famed oncologist Judah Folkman who said: "If you have cancer and you are a mouse, we can take good care of you." How close he was to the $64,000 (or more likely $64 billion) answer.
 
Largely an urban and suburban phenomenon, there are nonetheless millions of people in the United States and elsewhere who see their pets as family members (I among them, so please, no emails). Already, these people are spending inordinate sums to improve the lives of their ailing four-legged room mates.
 
One example is an 8-year effort by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine to perfect a canine vaccine against skin cancer. With little or no publicity aside from word-of-mouth, this program has apparently been inundated with requests to participate; each person looking to extend his or her companion's life just one or two years longer.
 
The fact that there is a health insurance industry tailored to household pets is testament to the size of the market. And yet, for the public demand and all the work that researchers have put into veterinary medicine, I have yet to see much published about this field.
 
Well, I'm going to make the effort. I'm going to look to sprinkle the pages of Drug Discovery News and DDN Online with stories about the veterinary medicine industry. Call it my "pet project".

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