Corporate finance executive Serge Goldner was so inspired by the enthusiastic reception on Wall Street for U.S.-based animal health companies like Zoetis ($ZTS) and Aratana Therapeutics ($PETX) that he decided his home country, Switzerland, should have its own drug company devoted to the veterinary industry. So in 2014, he started up Gour Medical and began looking for experimental drugs inspired by human medicine that the company could license and develop for use in pets.
Gour started by licensing an antianxiety drug from Actelion Pharmaceuticals in early 2015, and in late December it struck two deals that could expand its family of potential products even more. The first, with IDEXX Laboratories ($IDXX), is centered around developing a recombinant monoclonal antibody to treat atopic dermatitis in dogs, according to a press release from Gour. The company is now planning a proof-of-concept study.
Gour also entered into an agreement with Medicom Healthcare, a manufacturer of eye-care products. Through the partnership, Gour will introduce a line of products for animals in 2016, including eye wipes and lubricants, according to a press release.
But the IDEXX partnership has the most potential to bring Gour into a fast-growing--and extremely competitive--market. Atopic dermatitis was the second most commonly reported health problem in dogs in 2015 after ear infections, according to Veterinary Pet Insurance.
For Zoetis, the demand for products that can relieve Rover's itching has been both a blessing and a curse. After its atopic dermatitis drug, Apoquel, was released in 2014, demand was so high the company couldn't manufacture it fast enough. In the most recent quarter, strong sales of Apoquel helped push Zoetis' U.S. revenues up 19% year over year to $632 million. Several other companies are working on new therapies to treat canine dermatitis, including Aratana.
Gour isn't providing a timeline for the development of its atopic dermatitis drug, nor is the company offering any details about the parameters of the IDEXX relationship. But this is far from the first time IDEXX has ventured into an early-stage research endeavor. In 2014, the company teamed up with Hill's Pet Nutrition and researchers at Oregon State University to study a biomarker called SDMA. They showed that the biomarker could be used to detect kidney disease in cats an average of 17 months earlier than existing tests can.