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January 23, 2019 | STAT
When pet dogs are diagnosed with cancer, they typically get surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation — that is, of course, if their owner opts to treat it.
Now, a Silicon Valley startup wants to offer precision medicine instead — by recommending targeted therapies that are normally used to treat humans. For a price tag in the low four figures, depending on the veterinary clinic, the One Health Company will sequence a dog’s tumor and generate a report with recommendations.
The pitch is attracting some high-profile interest here in the Bay Area, where it’s not unusual for dog owners to spend tens of thousands of dollars to try to keep their beloved pet alive. The company announced on Wednesday that it had raised $5 million in seed funding from top Silicon Valley investors, including the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and the startup accelerator Y Combinator.
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The One Health Company is part of a broader effort to bring precision medicine to veterinary medicine — often in the hope of using those insights to inform the way that cancer gets treated in humans. A Massachusetts company called Innogenics offers a genomic test for dogs with cancer. And another Silicon Valley startup called ImpriMed is developing a screening service to help recommend appropriate chemotherapies for dogs with lymphoma; it hopes to go to market next year.
At the One Health Company, “we are rethinking here how to help dogs with cancer, and how to actually help better understand cancer overall,” said Christina Lopes, the startup’s founder and CEO.
Lopes said her company has developed a next-generation sequencing panel for dogs. She likened it to the ones marketed by Foundation Medicine, the company acquired by Roche last year that profiles the tumors of human patients to help guide them to the best therapies.
Lopes wouldn’t name any specific drugs that her company’s reports might recommend, but she said it includes both generic and brand-name targeted therapies. A sample report provided to STAT recommends a drug in a therapeutic class that targets what’s known as the mTOR pathway; another recommended drug exploits a mutation in a gene called PDGFRβ. (The company’s reports also include personalized touches that wouldn’t fly in human oncology, like a photo of the dog and “really compassionate language,” Lopes said.)
Such treatment is unusual in the field. There’s just one targeted therapy, a drug sold as Palladia, that veterinarians routinely use to treat dogs with cancer. Genetic sequencing of a dog’s cancer is even rarer, an option mostly for those with the connections and the resources to fly to the nation’s premier veterinary medical schools to enroll their dog in an academic study.
Because there’s so little infrastructure for targeted therapies in canine cancer care, the One Health Company has gotten involved in the delivery system for the drugs it recommends — an unusual move for genetic testing companies, which typically have nothing to do with how drugs actually get to patients.