Zoobiquity: The Intersection of Human Science & Veterinary Medicine

It was a gloomy winter afternoon and dozens of students sat in the steep auditorium. They leaned forward in their lecture hall seats and watched intently as the professor brought the subject into the internal medicine clinical demonstration class.

The veteran professor lifted the subject onto the examination table in the middle of the room of eager students. He listed the subject’s ailments, medical history and clinical signs. The small, female dachshund was hospitalized with severe anemia the day before and had undergone emergency treatment.

Students took turns raising their hands to ask questions about the case. Then, the professor revealed the dog was given a human medicine. What the owner didn’t recognize before giving the pet a human medicine, is that dogs are not small humans, therefore they don’t metabolize medicine the same way.

Dr. Heinen at his veterinary medicine residency with Toggy the goat in 1994.

“For me, this little dog always serves as a reminder of the differences between humans and animals,” explains Ernst Heinen, DVM, PhD, Chief Development Officer of Aratana Therapeutics. “At Aratana, we try to learn from the similarities and differences between species. Although there are many similarities between dogs, cats and humans, you must be cautious when applying learnings from one species to another.”

The genomes of all major species, including humans, dogs and cats have been decoded, and we’ve found many similarities between the three species. However, just like looking at three trees of the same variety, if you look just at the leaves on the branches, sometimes you miss the bigger picture. If you look at nucleotide similarities in isolated genes, you can easily ignore the endless ways genes interact and forget about the organism in its entirety.

“By understanding these differences, we can test a hypothesis to see when things will work,” notes Dr. Heinen. “We know that dogs and cats have different metabolism, requiring different doses of medicines, and pets may have different biomarkers on their cells, causing medicines to bind differently to targets.”


In order to bridge the gap from human to animal health, we must look for connections and overlap between the species, while also working to diligently test our hypothesis when we find a link.


Intersecting human and animal science

Listen to NPR’s interview with Dr. Natterson-Horowitz about what humans can learn from animal illnesses.

The human and animal connection is deeper than just the bond we have with our pets and that our pets have with us – the similarities are in our DNA and how our biological systems function.

Veterinary medicine branched out from human medicine to provide specialized care of animals, specifically to help farmers care for the animals that supported their livelihood. In the past half century, veterinary medicine has evolved and now veterinarians learn about the animal species almost exclusively without focusing on the tie to human science.

This separation of fields has led to gaps in knowledge in both human and animal science. From these gaps, a need has formed to again intersect human and animal science. The concept – called the One Health Initiative – aims to engage healthcare providers of all species to collaborate and share synergies between all fields of study.

Now, the link between human and animal science is becoming more widely accepted and “the race is on to explore the depth and breadth of this enormous overlap,” claims Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Dr. Natterson-Horowitz has documented her real-life medical experiences with cross-species connections and dubbed the concept Zoobiquity (Zo – Greek for animal and Ubique – Latin for everywhere).


“Zoobiquity joins together two cultures, just as we are
joining together the human and animal medicine cultures.”


Aratana Therapeutics strives to position ourselves at this exact intersection, taking the best from human medical research and applying the learnings to solve unmet or underserved medical needs of dogs and cats.

We believe collaborations between human and animal health pharmaceutical companies can advance science and produce novel therapeutics that may benefit many species. These collaborations are not as challenging as one might think, because human-focused pharmaceutical companies routinely study drug candidates in non-human species at the pre-clinical stage. Yet, few companies invest to advance therapeutic candidates in dogs and cats by further studying the safety, efficacy and dosing in those species.

Dr. Steven St. Peter with his dog Flo.

“We are believers in the biopharmaceutical development model which is capable of bringing innovative therapeutics to both humans and pets,” explains Steven St. Peter, MD, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Aratana Therapeutics. “Our core mission is to leverage the investment that has been made in medical research to create therapeutics that benefit dogs and cats.”


We’re just getting started

Historically, there has been limited development of therapeutics specifically for pets. As a result, from a targeted therapeutics perspective typical of the biotech industry, veterinary medicine lags decades behind. Veterinarians see millions of dogs and cats that they can’t treat because there aren’t as many treatment options approved in pets.


One of the most important outcomes of the tens of billions of dollars spent each year on medical research is the generation of new therapies. As shown above, more than 170 therapeutics were approved for use in humans, but the productivity in terms of new therapies for pets is much lower. However, since much of the science and biology is shared, with the appropriate level of focus, skill and investment, Aratana believes more breakthroughs can be translated to benefit our pets. Hence, it is Zoobiquity applied to drug development.

For example, Aratana is currently investigating Nocita* (bupivacaine liposome injectable suspension) for single-dose infiltration into the surgical site to provide local post-operative analgesia for surgery in dogs. The product candidate previously received FDA approval for use in humans in 2011 as a local anesthetic to relieve pain after surgical procedures. Aratana has completed pivotal studies with dogs and has started the phased submission process for FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine approval.

We are also making progress with investigational candidates that have not been approved in humans and are being studied on a parallel pathway as the compound in humans. Several of our product candidates, including Galliprant* (for pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis in dogs.), AT-016* (allogeneic stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis in dogs) and AT-014* (vaccine for osteosarcoma in dogs), will inform decisions being made for the human candidates and could be available for dogs before the compound receives FDA approval in humans.

*Please note that as of January 13, 2016, these product candidates have not been approved by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine or licensed by the USDA.

“We believe it’s important for animal health and human pharmaceutical companies to make strategic partnerships and advance science for multiple species at once,” explains Dr. St. Peter. “The idea of a conscious and very deliberative collaboration has the potential to bring therapeutics to dogs and cats much quicker.”

“We know there are many advocates who would endorse the opportunity to potentially bring a therapeutic to multiple species urgently, including the many veterinarians who work in the human pharmaceutical industry and are responsible for running pre-clinical studies,” states Dr. St. Peter.

“We believe Aratana plays a role in making sure human pharmaceutical companies are thinking about pets. Just as companies think about access to their medicines outside the country, we think they should also think about access for other members of the family. This is where we could really unlock the value of therapeutic advances across all species.”


Aratana has several licensing agreements with human pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer, Advaxis, Atopix Therapeutics, RaQualia Pharma and Pacira Pharmaceuticals to name a few – however, these collaborations and commitments tend to be outliers when looking at the industry overall. Many companies haven’t yet thought about the role they want to play.


How do we redefine medical boundaries?

There’s no doubt our dogs and cats are very important parts of our lives. The quest to extend and improve quality of life for our pets is important to Aratana because we believe pets are family and family merits the best care.

“In my experience as a human doctor, I routinely asked about pets, because it was interesting to see if my patients had a strong bond with an animal,” recalls Dr. St. Peter. “I found you can motivate people to walk their pets when you couldn’t motivate them to take a walk by themselves. Thus, the human bond with pets, by proxy, makes pet owners more aware of their own health.”

Dr. St. Peter shares his Zoobiquity “a-ha” moment at NAVC 2016.


Many veterinarians and medical doctors, just like Drs. Heinen and St. Peter, have made very similar human-animal connections themselves. On January 18, 2016, at the largest annual gathering of veterinarians, Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers uncovered many more links between the species. The pair of authors behind New York Times bestseller Zoobiquity were the keynote presentation at the North American Veterinary Community Conference (NAVC) in Orlando, which was attended by nearly 3,500 veterinarians and industry experts!

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