Zoetis innovation lab seeks to create electronic health record for every U.K. farm animal

Zoetis ($ZTS) has opened its new Centre for Digital Innovation (CDI) in a technology cluster in London's East End known as Tech City. Scientists at the new facility are working on apps and other technologies to improve both livestock production and companion-animal health, and Zoetis has launched the initiative with an ambitious goal: to create an electronic health record for every farm animal in the U.K.

Ned Flaxman

Ned Flaxman, director of the CDI, told FierceAnimalHealth in a phone interview that his team has already developed electronic health tools for pets and is working on adapting them for livestock use. "The concept is to put mobile tools in the hands of either pet owners or farmers, who can use them to create data," Flaxman said. "Then we pull that data back into a central environment, apply analytics to it, and present it back to the vet, who can use it to deliver a better clinical experience."

Among the first projects in the CDI's pipeline are an app that can detect and monitor lameness in cows, and a web tool that charts the growth of pigs. The product in development for the pork industry records the number of visits by individual animals to water and feed stations, all the while tracking key dimensions like weight and charting them against predicted growth rates.

Flaxman says the seeds for such inventions were planted by the first product to be released by the CDI, an app for the companion-health market called PetDialog. The app, which is currently available in the U.K., allows pet owners to chart the amount of time they spend walking the dog, for example, and to record observations they make about their pets' behavior in a quality-of-life assessment tool. They can also use the app to communicate directly with their vets and make appointments electronically. Zoetis expects to roll out the app across Europe this year, Flaxman said.

Now CDI is working on what Flaxman calls "a Fitbit-style" device for dogs--a wearable monitor that will record activity levels and feed the information straight to vets. "The vision would be that prior to an 8-year-old golden retriever coming in to see the vet, the vet can log in and see, for example, if the activity of that dog has dropped," Flaxman said. "He can compare it to the average activity of all 8-year-old golden retrievers. So he already has insight into what's going on with that animal before he examines him."

Applying similar technology to the livestock industry, Flaxman said, could help farmers, veterinarians, and government agencies tackle current challenges--not the least of which is the ongoing effort to reduce the use of antibiotics in food production. Towards that end, the CDI is pilot-testing a program in Germany centered on food safety and the responsible use of antibiotics, he said. The tool enables farmers to track the usage of veterinarian-prescribed drugs and to report that information to a government database. "What we should be able to do is start to see from that where drugs are being used, which will help [the government] ensure responsible use," Flaxman said.

In the future, Flaxman said, the CDI would like to develop tools to improve disease surveillance by monitoring social media or tapping into other technology platforms. Such tools would allow livestock producers to detect outbreaks long before they reach their farms, so they can better protect their animals, he said.

The overall goal of Zoetis and the CDI, he adds, is to make the world of animal health as sophisticated as human health has become in adopting digital advances. "When you look at the technology being developed in human health, animal health seems to lag massively behind," he said. "We see a huge wealth of opportunity to develop solutions in this space."

- here's the press release on CDI's opening