Nexvet focuses first investor symposium on prospects for biotech in vet medicine

Nexvet Biopharma ($NVET) had its first event for investors on Nov. 23 in New York, but the company stopped short of calling the gathering an "investor day," dubbing it instead an "animal health symposium." That may be because the company has such a long way to go before its first commercial product is ready to launch that it couldn't actually provide any concrete financial forecasts to the 25 or so analysts who were there.

Instead, Nexvet used the occasion to educate the audience about the potential market for biologic drugs in veterinary medicine--a market it is going after with its technology for creating species-specific monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Among the experimental drugs that Nexvet's investors are counting on is NV-01, a mAb to treat osteoarthritis in dogs. NV-01 was the focus of much of the discussion at the symposium.

At the start of the event, Nexvet's top executives discussed various dynamics affecting the market for veterinary drugs. Non-executive chairman George Gunn told the audience that the market for animal drugs is about $24 billion but that it's poised to grow, and he drew a laugh with oft-quoted survey data showing that most people say they'd stop spending on their kids before they'd stop pampering their pets.

Colin Giles, Nexvet's vice president of clinical and regulatory affairs, then provided details about the company's recently announced data from a clinical trial of NV-01. Despite some initial questions about whether the trial would meet its primary endpoints, the company announced a week prior to its symposium that, in fact, it did.

Giles explained that the company followed the FDA's instructions for the trial and relied largely on dog owners' assessments of whether the drug--a once-monthly injection--was working to alleviate pain. He reported that 75% of assessments came back as either "excellent" or "good" on the question of whether dogs seemed to find relief while on the drug.

The pivotal trial is ongoing, and Nexvet is currently preparing a manufacturing facility it acquired in Ireland. The company plans to file for approval of NV-01 in the U.S. and Europe and expects it will be ready to commercialize the drug around 2019. An ongoing study of NV-02, a similar drug for cats, continues to show signs of success, executives said.

Nexvet is also working on drugs to treat allergic conditions, as well looking at immuno-oncology approaches for treating cancer. Some of those projects may beat NV-01 to market, said CEO Mark Heffernan in an interview with FierceAnimalHealth after the event. But he declined to provide many specifics on what Nexvet is working on outside of its pain franchise. Animal health, said Heffernan "is a highly competitive field. It's gaining a lot of traction and a lot of interest. We're keeping our targets and our data for our pipeline under wraps." He promised to provide more visibility into the rest of the pipeline next year.

The symposium included a panel of veterinarians, who addressed questions about how open pet owners are likely to be to the idea of treating chronic conditions like arthritis with medicines that have to be injected on a regular basis. It's a valid concern, as most of the pain remedies available today are inexpensive pills that can be given at home.

The clinicians agreed that owners of elderly pets are often regular visitors to vet offices anyway, so they didn't expect the requirement of vet-administered shots to present any hurdles. One veterinarian commented that current drugs for treating pain, most of which are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), are oftentimes ineffective, and for some pets, intolerable. He noted that euthanasia rates in his practice spike in December and March, because pets with untreatable arthritis pain have trouble tolerating cool, wet weather.

Heffernan said after the symposium that he hoped to make it an annual event. "It exceeded my expectations," he said. "We set out for it to be an educational forum, not necessarily a Nexvet forum. I think the independent vets concurred with the initial assessments we had when we set up this company. It was great to hear them reaffirm the premise that new approaches like injection-based therapies are key."

- get more on Nexvet's symposium here