Digital animal health is in its infancy but evolving fast, claims expert

The use of data and technology in animal health is in its infancy but evolving quickly, according to one industry expert.
Chief operating officer of pet wearables specialist AGL Technology, Joe Young, told Animal Pharm although the digital era of animal health is in the early stages, technologies will advance at a rapid rate and their uptake is dependent on the problems they can solve.
Earlier in 2016, Clint Lewis, executive vice president and president of international operations at Zoetis, suggested the animal health industry is moving more towards the precision farming model used in the agriculture sector, whereby a greater emphasis is put on disease and herd management.
He said data will play a big part in this and will become an increasingly prominent aspect but animal health companies, as well as veterinarians, need to work out the financial value of all data being collected from animals. He noted the industry needs to build a sense of data ownership, “which is different to data access”.
Regarding ownership of data, Mr Young said AGL has always taken the approach that data is owned by the person who owns the animal that contributed the information. Yet he explained once data has been taken from its original state and a company has invested heavily in “very unique and capable algorithms that turn that raw data into something more meaningful”, the firm has then gained some rights over the information.
Mr Young recently spoke to Animal Pharm about the usefulness of such data collected by its own Vetrax pet wearable, which the company is currently working to launch in the US market.

History of tech in animal health

Joachim Hasenmaier, a member of Boehringer Ingelheim’s corporate board for animal health, also recently claimed the utilization of data in animal health is around 10-20 years behind the concept of precision farming.
However, Mr Young said: “My role in the last 30 years has included having one foot in the technology area and one foot in animal health, with a long history in food animal production.
“Dating back to the late 1990s, we started to bring information, data and technology to the food animal production area with a program called Benchmark. It was primarily focused on the beef feeding area in those days. We sold the business and that part of the business has blossomed into a large analytical service for a lot of food animal production.
“So to say that we’re 10-20 years far behind may be a little strong, although I think there’s always an opportunity to accelerate. One of the things we have to keep in mind is that analytical information and technology adoption happens when you solve a problem for the participants in that industry.”
Speakers echoed this sentiment at the opening of Zoetis’ vHive in June, predicting the use of data will enable veterinarians and producers to improve their work.
They explained digital innovation in the industry and an uptake of these technologies will enable an improved understanding of animal health, transform the real-time information capture for owners and veterinarians, and allow early detection of health issues and diseases.
Dr Alejandro Bernal, executive vice president and group president of strategy, commercial and business development at Zoetis, added animal health firms – including those in the digital space – need go beyond their customers’ clinical needs. He explained whilst clinical needs are important, companies also need to support veterinarians’ needs as business owners, especially as their profession is expected to evolve over time with the emergence of new technology.
Whilst pet wearables have been at the forefront of the digital technology market, innovation in the livestock and aquaculture sectors is picking up pace.
In March, UK aquaculture firm Fish Vet Group opened a state-of-the-art diagnostic laboratory in Chile, equipped with robotic quantitative polymerase chain reaction and digital histology equipment.
Later in May, Amsterdam-based dairy health monitor start-up Connecterra closed $1.8 million of seed investment funding led by UK incubator Breed Reply. The firm is developing the Connecterra Dairy Activity Monitor, designed to provide accurate estrus detection, health analysis and location services for dairy cattle.
More recently, the University of Guelph in Canada received $76.6 million in funding, a portion of which will be dedicated to livestock disease research. The federal government granted the funding to the university’s Food From Thought scheme “to start a digital revolution in food and agriculture”.

Economics are key

Mr Young said: “I’ve always believed technology will be adopted when it becomes economically viable and we’re solving problems. So maybe we’re a little bit behind because we haven’t really solved those problems yet.
“For many years we were involved in initiatives on how we should track animals more and how we leverage data as an industry – I’ve always been a bit cautious of those because it’s essentially a top-down mandate and I think mandates very rarely work.
“If you put an incentive out there for people to do certain things with technology, typically they get done. Raising costs, specifically, is not a compelling reason to adopt technology.”