Direct-to-consumer home genetic kits allowed startups like 23andMe to offer health and ancestry insights at an affordable cost. Now, similar tech is coming to pets.
It’ll help vets, breeders and pet parents to verify parentage and breed, diagnose diseases and plan for future health risks.
“Everything we have seen happening in humans, in terms of predictive and personalised medicine and genetics-based diagnostics, has migrated into the pet space,” says Sergey Jakimov, founding partner of LongeVC, a European VC fund that focuses on early-stage biotech and longevity. “This is super exciting because pets, as living beings, have equalised themselves in importance in terms of how much money and attention is spent on their longevity, and in disease diagnostics and prevention.”
It’s not the first time human health innovation has come to the animal world — US-based Signal Pet, for example, provides artificial intelligence-based radiology — but animal genetics could be big business.
Animal genetics market revenue is predicted to exceed $6.4bn by 2027, up from $99m in 2020. Sifted dug into the sector and found the startups to watch — and the VCs watching them.
Purrsonalised and preventative health
Feragen, an Austria-based pet genetics startup, sees the vet sector as a growth engine for its business. It wants to move from diagnostics, where such tools are common, into disease prevention.
Puppies are more like family members
“We want to push the prevention angle. What can we learn from genetics to create a life plan for a dog?” says Anja Geretschläger, founder and CEO. “Pet parents are becoming more interested in understanding the risk of diseases that might come when the pet is five or six, so they are more prepared when the symptoms show up.”
Michael Geretschläger, Anja's husband and collaborator, says preventive health is “getting more [attention] as puppies are more like family members”. Anja Geretschläger adds that genetic insights are valuable for breeders in the era of "designer dogs".
This is because cross-breeding can lead to health complications, such as labradoodles developing skin problems due to different fur structures between labradors and poodles.
The players to watch
Another European player is Germany-based Generatio, which provides genetic testing for animal owners, vets and breeders.
There’s also UK-based AffinityDNA, acquired in May by Australian diagnostics company Genetic Technologies, which provides animal testing for allergies and intolerances, paternity testing and direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests from companies like Embark, Wisdom Panel and BasePaws.
Genetic Technologies' portfolio includes General Genetics Corporation and associated brand EasyDNA, which offers UK pet owners breed composition tests, disease susceptibility tests for dogs, and feline and equine offerings.
European VCs are also interested in startups across the pond. Garri Zmudze, a Latvian biotech angel investor and founder of Switzerland-based LongeVC, invested in Basepaws, the American cat genetics company recently acquired by Zoetis, an animal medicines and vaccinations company.
Basepaws plans to expand into the veterinary portfolio of genetic, oral and microbiome screening tools for disease risk, screening 64 feline health markers and over 210 canine health markers.
Human to animal, animal to human
For some, the pet genetics space is not just a play on the pet market but could inform human health and longevity science. Some diseases are rare in humans but are common in certain breeds of pets, who are useful for studies into genetic disease origins.
“There is a tight connection between humans and animals and we can learn from both,” says Anja Geretschläger.
Zmudze’s investment in Basepaws, for instance, was not a pet consumer market bet at all. Instead it was aligned with his interest in human longevity, given the genetic overlaps between animals and humans in diseases like cancer and some neurodegenerative conditions.
There is a tight connection between humans and animals and we can learn from both
“These overlaps are the reason we have animal models in clinical trials, because the metabolic processes are translatable,” says Jakimov. “There are tonnes of matches.”
Matt Kaeberlein, professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and head of the dog ageing project, a world-leading biological study of ageing in dogs, sits on the LongeVC advisory board, alongside executives from European pharmaceutical giants Roche and Novartis. And Zmudze was also an investor in Insilico Medicine, an AI drug discovery unicorn.
As home to many of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies, Europe could be a major player in longevity research. Switzerland is developing a "Longevity Valley" initiative, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck are major investors in cancer immunotherapies and the pharma industry is investing in early stage longevity companies like senescent cells companies, through initiatives like Merck’s early stage venture arm.
“Pharmaceutical companies live in the future, they live in 10 to 20 year cycles,” says Jakimov. “They are super focused on the longevity sector.”
This article first appeared in our monthly Unleashed pet tech newsletter, a collaboration with Purina Accelerator Lab. All content is editorially independent. Sign up to our newsletter here to keep up to date with the latest goings on in the European pet tech industry.