Photo: Holly (left) and Adrien from AnimalBiome with their furry friends.
It’s not uncommon for a pet dog or cat to have digestive issues, especially early in life. Instead of treating the root of the problem—an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut—veterinarians commonly prescribe antibiotics. Without a true fix for the problem, pets can fall victim to a number of other health issues later in life as a result.
Animal Biome is harnessing the power of the microbiome to make targeted therapeutics for dogs and cats that are suffering from digestive issues. We asked the company’s CEO, Holly Ganz, a few questions:
Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?
Up until recently, I was an academic researcher working at UC Davis studying co-evolution between animals and microbes. I became interested in the biotech space after launching a citizen science project to study the microbiology of domestic cats. From this experience, I learned that digestive disorders are common in cats and that many of these kitties have an imbalance in the composition of bacteria in their gut. I found that chronic conditions like Irritable Bowel Disease cost pet owners thousands of dollars to diagnose and manage, and there is currently no cure. My goal is to rapidly translate what we are learning in our research to create solutions for pet owners.
“I found that chronic conditions like Irritable Bowel Disease cost pet owners thousands of dollars to diagnose and manage, and there is currently no cure.”
What problem are you working to solve with your company, AnimalBiome?
We estimate that about 10 million dogs and cats in the US suffer from digestive disorders. Based on our research, we have found that many digestive disorders are linked to low bacterial diversity in the gut. The current solutions to these disorders are expensive and they only address the symptoms, not the source of the problem. At AnimalBiome, we are using our assessment kit to allow pet owners to view their pet’s bacterial diversity, and we are developing solutions in the form of fecal transplant pills and cat- and dog-specific probiotic mixtures.
If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?
Our customers and partner veterinarians are already telling us that we are doing the right thing. It is a certainty that microbiome data is going to be used to improve the health and wellness of both pets and their owners in the future, and we are striving to make that happen as soon as possible.
How do you think success can change your industry?
Our success can change the pet health industry by enabling pet owners and veterinarians to make data driven decisions about the care of their pets. The gut microbiome influences more than just digestion; it’s been linked to conditions such as allergies, diabetes and even depression. The more pet owners we have participating in our cause, the more successful we will be at addressing the underlying role of gut bacteria in a wide variety of disorders.
How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?
Our team of scientists has amassed the largest database in the world on the microbiome of the order Carnivora (dogs, cats, and their close relatives). We are researchers from UC Davis and UC Berkeley, who have published more than 30 papers and have extensive experience in both microbiology, computational biology and data analytics.
“Our team of scientists has amassed the largest database in the world on the microbiome of the order Carnivora (dogs, cats, and their close relatives).”
Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?
In academia, we have more freedom to pursue our own personal, intellectual interests, so long as we can find funding to do so. In the private sector you have to understand the market needs and focus your time on building your business to meet those needs.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?
We’ve developed personal relationships with a number of our customers who have grieved the loss of their companion animal. Although we are currently able to diagnose low gut bacteria diversity, we do not yet have the amount of data necessary to provide tailored cures for their pets. The biggest challenge we’re currently facing is learning how to quickly spread our mission so we can provide solutions to ailing pets as soon as possible.
What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?
Our big goal in the short term is to hit 5,000 participants in DoggyBiome and KittyBiome. In the long term, our goal is to create tailored probiotics using isolates that we have identified from this database as being essential for animal health.