ViroVet spins out of Aratana with focus on livestock health

Dozens of companies focused on animal health have started up in the past few years, but few have declared 100% devotion to serving food producers. That changed Sept. 15 with the emergence of ViroVet, a Belgium-based company that was spun out of Aratana Therapeutics ($PETX).

ViroVet got its start in 2008 as Okapi Sciences, which Aratana acquired 6 years later for $44 million. Aratana said at the time that it was interested in Okapi's proprietary antivirals, particularly for fighting diseases in pets like feline herpesvirus. Separating from Aratana will allow Okapi's flagship scientific team to develop assets for treating livestock, including vaccines, according to a press release announcing the spinoff.

"Of the small number of new food animal products, nearly all are mere variations of products and technologies that already exist on the market," said Erwin Blomsma, co-founder and CEO of ViroVet, in the release. "Very few new products provide novel solutions to the problems that continue to challenge the food animal industry. This is an attractive opportunity for an innovation-focused start-up."

Aratana CEO Steven St. Peter

The ViroVet spinoff comes amid a push by Aratana to transition from a pure R&D-focused startup to a full-fledged veterinary drug seller serving the companion animal market. The company is building up its manufacturing facilities in preparation for a full commercial launch of two canine lymphoma drugs next year. It is also in late-stage trials of a drug to treat postsurgical pain in dogs and another to stimulate their appetites. Aratana CEO Steven St. Peter has set a goal of having 6 products on the market in 2016.

Initially, ViroVet will continue to share Aratana's office space in Belgium but will access its own sources of capital, according to the press release. "Aratana is focused on companion animals, and the creation of ViroVet allows for the highly important food animal technologies to advance and eventually take on an independent existence," said Nesya Goris, general manager of Aratana's Belgium unit, in the release.

- here's the press release