Zoetis launches first genomic test for predicting common diseases in Holsteins

Dairy farmers face a risk of costly conditions, from mastitis to lameness. Now Zoetis ($ZTS) is offering them a test that can predict disease risk in Holsteins based on their genes--a tool that could help dairy managers selectively breed healthier herds. The product, called Clarifide Plus, is the first U.S.-based genomic test for the 6 most common and costly diseases among Holstein cattle, according to the company.

Clarifide assesses disease risk based on electronic health data from millions of cows in U.S. commercial herds, Zoetis says in a press release. The company estimates it can predict the risk of the 6 conditions with reliability of 49% to 51%.

The product also includes two indexes that Zoetis developed. The first includes traits such as fertility and longevity, while the second estimates differences in expected profitability based on a cow's risk for mastitis, lameness and the four other diseases included in Clarifide. 

Kent Weigel, who has been studying the link between genetics and health challenges in dairy cows as professor and chair of the Department of Dairy Science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes a tool like Zoetis' could be of great value to the industry. "Finally seeing this research get to the point of being an available tool that producers can use for making genetic selection decisions to raise animals with reduced risk for health problems is really encouraging," Weigel said in the release. "When you have traits that have an emphasis on health, longevity and wellness, all integrated into one package, this allows producers to make decisions earlier and invest in raising healthy animals."

Disease prevention has been a major focus for Zoetis over the last year, as the company has worked to cut costs and re-focus its research efforts on high-profit pursuits. Last year, under pressure from activist hedge fund investor William Ackman of Pershing Square Capital, the company cut 5,000 underperforming SKUs, and it is now in the process of exiting 10 manufacturing plants.

But throughout all that downsizing, Zoetis has reiterated its commitment to developing new products that prevent disease in both production and companion animals. In November, it laid out $765 million for Norway-based Pharmaq, a leading manufacturer of vaccines for farmed fish. And in February, it entered the booming market for chewable flea-and-tick preventatives with its new product for dogs called Simparica.

Clarifide Plus is in keeping with Zoetis' efforts to promote "precision farming," whereby food producers deploy wearable devices, Internet and mobile technologies, and other tools to monitor their animals and track health trends over time. Last summer, the company's Centre for Digital Innovation in London co-authored a report on just that topic, calling for the animal health industry to embrace what it called the "Internet of Animal Health Things."

- here's the release