A Seattle biotech company is taking the lead in tapping our love of dogs to fund disease research in humans. In the dog-eat-dog world of biomedical research, canines are more like cash cows.
"It adds to the equation quite nicely," said Dr. Steve Reed, President and Founder of IDRI, the Infectious Disease Research Institute.
It's focus is on diseases affecting the poor. But limited grant money and even less federal funding can only go so far.
"It's very difficult, very competitive. And unfortunately, a lot of people are dropping out of the game," says Reed.
IDRI has developed a vaccine for something called leishmaniasis, a disease that affects dogs and humans. And thanks to our love of dogs, the vaccine is now on the fast track.
"People are willing to pay money for protecting their pets. And the people who have the human disease are among the poorest of the poor," said Reed.
That's right - companies are more inclined to invest in a pet vaccine. After all, there's a lot more profit potential, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
But that big payoff for IDRI helps fund a human vaccine in places where leishmeniasis can live and thousands could die. The disease can manifest as a painful skin rash or, in a more serious form, internally. The scars inside and out can last a lifetime.
"It's so sad because some of these individuals have scars on their faces," said Dr. Rhea Coler, IDRI's Vice President of Preclinical Biology.
Leishmeniasis can spread to and from dogs and humans in Africa and Europe. But help is coming-- for both man and man's best friend.
"It's an unmet need on the veterinary side and it's a great proof of concept on the human side," said Reed.
This kind of fundraising approach can only be used with vaccines or treatments that benefit both animals and humans. But companies like IDRI are developing specific marketing strategies to attract more for-profit partnerships.