Maya, a 1-year-old German shepherd, has been taking Benadryl for her itchy skin, but her chronic allergy-associated skin condition persisted.
So after a trip to a veterinary clinic that specializes in dermatology, Maya’s owners, Emily and Dave Leslie of San Jose, Calif., enrolled their pet in a clinical trial for a potential new drug -— a dog version of Allegra, a well-known allergy drug for humans.
The company developing the drug, Kindred Biosciences in Burlingame, Calif., specializes in turning drugs that have already shown to be safe and effective in humans into therapies for dogs, cats and other companion animals, including horses.
They are part of an animal-pharmaceutical industry that is growing, fueled largely by an increasing passion that owners feel for their pets. Veterinary medicines and vaccines are estimated to represent a global market of $22 billion within the approximately $100 billion animal-health industry. The bulk of that is livestock, but the companion-pet sector is taking a bigger bite out of that market.
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Pet owners who treat their animal companions more like family members tend to spend more on them. Already, Americans are spending upward of $3.5 billion a year on flea and tick medications and $1.5 billion on knee surgeries for their dogs.
“Owners really are at that point where they want the best treatments for their animals,” said Denise Bevers, Kindred’s co-founder and chief operating officer.
Company spin offs
Animal-pharmaceutical businesses are typically spinoffs or divisions of large human-drug manufacturers.
Eli Lilly last month bought Novartis’ animal-health unit, a move that will create the second-largest animal-drug company behind Zoetis, which broke away from Pfizer last year. Other big pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and Sanofi-Aventis, have their own animal-health units.
Kindred Biosciences has a different business model. Rather than being a human-drug company that makes animal medications, the company takes human drugs that have gone off patent and, using the active ingredient, converts them into animal drugs.
Emily Leslie, Maya’s owner, said she’s more familiar with the concept of human drugs and products being tested on animals first, rather than the other way around. “This is interesting. They’re taking human drugs and testing them for animals,” she said of the Allegra-like trial.
To “petify” human drugs can be complex because animals aren’t people, and cats and dogs and other animals metabolize drugs differently. For example, the Allegra-like drug for dogs, which the company is calling AtoKin, is reformulated into a chewable, beef-flavored “pill” with the proper dosage for dogs. Turns out dogs need about seven times more of the active ingredient in Allegra than humans for it to be effective.
Like all human drugs, a new animal medication must get federal approval to vouch for its safety and effectiveness before being sold and marketed to the public. Animal drugs are approved by the. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Kindred, which was founded in 2012, is enrolling animals in clinical trials for three products.
In addition to AtoKin, Kindred is enrolling dogs in trials for a canine version of the human osteoarthritis drug diacerein, which is not FDA approved but has been approved for use outside the United States. The drug, CereKin, would also treat arthritis in dogs.
The third drug, SentiKin, is a derivative of a nonopioid short-term pain reliever that is also approved for use in humans outside this country. SentiKin is being developed to treat postoperative pain in dogs and horses.
The company plans to submit the drugs to federal regulators by the end of the year for potential approval in 2015. Kindred is also working on a number of biologic or immunotherapies, which are tailored to meet the needs of specific species.
“The human version is made out of human genes, so you have to use dog genes to make the dog version. We have the technology to do that,” said Dr. Richard Chin, Kindred’s chief executive officer and former head of clinical research for the biotherapeutics unit at Genentech.
Also in the works
Kindred is working on an biological arthritis drug similar to etanercept, or Enbrel for humans, and a feline version of epoetin, a type of antianemia medication sold under the brand names Procrit and Epogen, to treat kidney disease in cats.
Because none has been approved, Kindred officials would not provide pricing information. But the company cited surveys that reported pet owners are willing to spend as much as $3,000 to $5,000 a year on a pet therapy that has proved to be effective and safe.
Analysts agreed pet owners are willing to pay a fair amount out of pocket to take care of their animals.
“Over the last couple of decades, you’ve seen people embrace their pets and treat them more like children,” said David Krempa, equity analyst who covers the animal-health industry for Morningstar investment research. “Now you see people pursuing medical treatment for their dogs that, 20 years ago, would have been unheard of.”
Veterinarians, who use human drugs when an animal version is not available, say they welcome the opportunity to add new therapies to their arsenal of potential treatment.
Dr. Amy Shumaker, with Dermatology for Animals in Campbell, Calif., recruited Maya and other dogs into the trial for AtoKin, because she said that the existing dermatitis drugs don’t work for all dogs, and some have side effects.
“We’re always looking for new safe therapies for dogs, cats — really for all our patients,” she said.
Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @vcolliver