Merial teams with Georgia Tech on connected networks for animal health

Sanofi's ($SNY) animal health division, Merial, is best known for its top-selling drugs and vaccines, but over the past few years, its executives have been exploring ways to integrate new technology into their product offerings. They stepped up that effort on January 28, announcing a partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology that's centered on using connected devices to advance animal health.

Merial will be working with Georgia Tech's Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT) to explore how smart devices, perhaps in homes or veterinary clinics, can enable enhanced communication between animals, their owners and veterinarians, according to a press release from Merial. The company joins a list of tech bigwigs that are founding members of CDAIT, including AT&T, Cisco and IBM. Merial will have the opportunity to participate in research aimed at developing new ways to monitor the health of animals remotely, with telemedicine technologies, wearables and other devices.

"This collaboration supports the way Merial thinks about integrating technology to benefit animal health," said Sebastien Lafon, global head of digital business at Merial, in the release.

Merial has already dipped its toes into the field of connected technology. It is in the final stages of developing Pet+Pixie, a Facebook-style app that pet owners can use to communicate with each other and their veterinarians, for example. The company has also been exploring technologies that will enhance communication channels in the livestock industry, so farmers and producers can monitor emerging diseases and better halt their spread.

"We hope that this partnerships yields new and more efficiencies in caring for pets and producing safe, abundant and high-quality protein for humans around the world," said Alain Louchez, managing director of Georgia Tech's CDAIT, in the release.

Merial's push into networking comes amid huge changes for the company. In December, Sanofi announced it would be exiting animal health via a $12.5 billion asset swap with Boehringer Ingelheim. The deal, which is expected to close by the end of this year, would make the combo of Merial and BI's Vetmedica unit the second-largest animal health company behind Zoetis ($ZTS).

The new animal health giant will need to embrace digital technology to keep ahead of the competition. Last year, Zoetis declared its dedication to developing new tech tools by opening its Centre for Digital Innovation in London, which aims to create an electronic health record for every farm animal in the U.K., among other pursuits. Merck ($MRK) and Bayer HealthCare Animal Health are also developing connected devices, as are a range of startups that are working on everything from collar attachments that track chronic illnesses to mobile apps that pet owners can use to consult remotely with veterinarians. 

- here's Merial's press release