For many, pets are part of the family. And the money spent on their health proves it.
According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent nearly $67 billion on their fuzzy friends in 2016. The animal health industry itself has grown to a whopping $30 billion, with companion animals – primarily dogs and cats – representing the fastest-growing segment over the past 15 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
“Animal health is a growing market that will continue to receive more attention, and that’s a benefit for pet owners,” said OMRF’s Manu Nair. “There is a lot of overlap in diseases, so much of the research being done applies to both humans and pets.”
Nair leads OMRF’s efforts to transform discoveries in the lab into products to improve health. And while those efforts have historically focused on human health, in recent years, animal health companies have expressed a growing interest in the work being done at the Oklahoma City nonprofit and in other research institutions around the country.
For example, humans share 84 percent of our DNA with dogs, and 90 percent with cats. So what scientists learn about us often applies to our pets.
Indeed, many medications that veterinarians commonly utilize or prescribe – antibiotics, pain medications, anesthetics – are slightly modified versions of what we would use.
“It is how most pet medications are coming into the market already,” said Nair. “These are safely used in pets with great effectiveness.”
One area of increasing research interest is age-related disease. Like humans, animals suffer from conditions like cancer, arthritis and eye disease. But because they age more rapidly – according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs and cats are considered “geriatric” by age 6 or 7 – pets experience these problems earlier in life.
“Finding cures for animals could become a significant source of research funding that could ultimately lead to moving discoveries on to humans,” said Nair.
At OMRF, scientists are studying age-related muscle loss, osteoarthritis and joint pain. “These are all significant problems in older pets,” said Nair. As a result, he’s begun discussing possible research collaborations with animal health companies.
If those joint projects take shape, they could come to fruition much faster than those that are targeted at human health. “The regulatory framework is considerably less burdensome, so drugs can reach the market much more quickly and at considerably lower cost,” said Nair.
What’s more, he said, the data scientists generate while working to help animals can ultimately teach valuable lessons that are also applicable to us.
“Taking care of their diseases while benefitting humans,” said Nair. “It’s a win-win.”