The gene therapy revolution that’s been sweeping through biotech isn’t just about humans anymore. A Penn-partnered biotech called Scout Bio has just picked up a $20 million round to step up its work on once-and-done therapies for common pet ailments.
Co-founded by legendary gene therapy pioneer and Penn investigator James Wilson, Scout is using some familiar AAV tech to go after diseases like chronic kidney disease, chronic pain and the inflammatory skin condition atopic dermatitis.
“In the United States alone, there are 90 million dogs and 94 million cats, underscoring the opportunity in a new generation of medicines that dramatically improve standards of care for major chronic conditions,” said Cindy Cole, Technical Partner at Digitalis Ventures.
Needless to say, Scout need never go beyond animal studies for an approval to market these drugs to vets — though presumably the cost of these therapies will be dramatically lower than the high 6-figure and proposed 7-figure price tags that have attracted so much discussion.
I queried Scout about that, and heard back that the company believes it can market gene therapies to a mass audience of pet owners — but not at a million dollars or more per shot.
Their market research highlights that half of all pet owners would pay $1,000 to treat their animals. Close to one in 4 would go as high as $5,000. Combine the greater efficiencies being made in manufacturing gene therapies with a potential mass market of 10s of millions, and Scout believes it can treat those critters and make money at it. Besides, they add, animal drug development isn’t nearly as expensive as R&D for humans.
Perhaps they are on to something that would help the rest of the field when it comes to gene therapy costs.
Their lead program is anemia in cats with CKD, and Scout says they’ve registered hikes in red blood cells in their test animals.
Scout has a top syndicate backing their play. Digitalis Ventures’ Companion Fund and RiverVest Venture Partners led the round, joined by new investor GreenSpring Associates as well as existing investors Frazier Healthcare Partners, Adage Capital Management and Correlation Ventures.
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