Personal Loss Leads to Possible Breakthrough

After losing their pet to anemia, two doctors set out to develop a safe treatment.

Even though it affects nearly 1 million pets each year, there is currently no FDA-approved treatment designed specifically for animals. Now, a small team of scientists and veterinarians has discovered molecular structures that could be developed into a safe and effective anemia treatment for cats and dogs. 

When their cat, Cassie, showed signs of anemia, Drs. Nicole and Tom Gerbe had her treated with a drug intended for humans. Veterinarians are too often faced with a tough decision: Human drugs can cure anemia in pets, but carry a high risk of a nearly irreversible autoimmune reaction. After several weeks of treatment, Cassie had a reaction to the drug. Instead of treating the anemia, the human drug had made it much worse.

Searching for a solution to save their cat, the couple located Dr. Pete Schatz, an expert in drug discovery, who had recently co-developed a new drug to treat anemia in humans.  Unfortunately, this drug cures anemia in almost every species except for cats and dogs. Out of options, Cassie finally lost her battle, motivating the three doctors to take on the challenge of developing a new anemia drug for pets.

The team contacted investors, pharmaceutical companies, venture capital groups, and others to help fund the project. The response from more than 50 potential investors was the same: "The risk is too high. Call us when you have proof-of-concept." After scraping up funds from their savings, friends, and bank loans, the team set up shop in a small state-of-the-art drug discovery lab in Silicon Valley.

The Breakthrough

Utilizing powerful drug discovery technology, co-invented by Dr. Pete, they screened over a billion different molecular structures, looking for ones that bind to a particular cell surface receptor that stimulates red blood cell production. After several months of effort, they discovered a number of positive “hits” that are the foundation for a powerful anemia drug for cats and dogs. The team is now looking for additional funding to make the drug a reality.

The entire development process could take four years, and cost upwards of $5 million. The company has a number of investors lined up, plus a growing crowd-fund initiative where pet owners can help fund the research.

Learn more at Companion Sciences.