BURLINGAME, Calif. (KGO) -- People are spending more and more money on their pets and among those costs are increasingly expensive drugs to treat sick pets. A Bay Area company is hoping to save the costly expense of developing new pet drugs by using human drugs instead.
Watching Maya the dog play, no one would ever guess she suffers from itchy skin. Her owner, San Jose resident Dave Leslie, said traditional treatments didn't work, so his vet suggested Maya take part in a clinical trial of a human drug bring tested on dogs.
The trial is part of a burgeoning industry that is using people to find treatments for their pets.
Maya is taking a compounded version of Allegra, a popular human allergy drug.
The Food and Drug Administration requires clinical studies before any drug can be used on pets. "Right now, pets are often given human medication that has not been tested or approved in the appropriate dose. There are some FDA-approved drugs for pets, but not very many," Denise Bevers said.
Bevers is co-founder of Burlingame-based Kindred Bio. "Kindred Bio is a bio pharmaceutical company dedicated in bringing the best-in-class medicines to cats, dogs and horses," she said.
Veterinary medicines and vaccines are big business. Americans spend $3.5 billion on flea and tick medication alone.
The global market is estimated to be worth $22 billion.
Developing new drugs is expensive and time-consuming. Kindred Bio is hoping to cut the cost by taking human drugs that are already on the market and reformulating them into a dose that is just right for pets.
"For our tablets, we're often able to buy the drug, the active ingredient, and then reformulate it in a way, so for example, for dogs, beef-flavored chewable," Bevers said.
Kindred Bio is currently enrolling animals in clinical trials for three different drugs approved for humans -- one for allergies, one for osteoarthritis and a pain reliever.
The company is hoping to get federal approvals by the end of the year.
San Francisco veterinarian Winnie Ybarra said there is definitely a need for more pet-specific drugs. "So many diseases cross over from species to species - endocrine diseases, cancers, infectious diseases," Ybarra said.
Ybarra often turns to human drugs to help treat animals. "The problem is just, you know, in the veterinary field, we are often reaching for human drugs that have been studied or closely studied, because there is a shortage of veterinary-specific drugs," she said.
Ybarra said this doesn't mean people should be turning to their medicine cabinets to treat their pets. Pets can be poisoned by some human-approved medications.
"The ER service probably sees that at least once a day, if not more," Ybarra said.
For pet owners willing to wait for veterinary-approved uses, the payoff seem well worth it.
Written and produced by Tim Didion
Bay Area company researching human drugs for animal use