Animals Need Medicine, Too. Congress Can Help.
Reportedly it was President Harry Truman who said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
But what happens when our furry friends grow old and suffer from arthritis, as happens to about 20% of canines? Current arthritis treatment focuses on reducing inflammation and decreasing pain, but new medications that slow or stop the development of arthritis would significantly improve long-term quality of life for millions of dogs.
With nearly 70% of U.S. households owning a pet, keeping animals healthy is an issue that cuts across all geographic, demographic and economic lines. For example, owners of America’s 192 million dogs and cats must be vigilant in their efforts to manage parasites, which can cause discomfort and disease in animals and also spread to humans. Keeping parasites in check gets more challenging each season as climate change enables the geographic spread of pests and lengthens their breeding season.
But unmet animal health needs don’t stop at problems like fleas and ticks and arthritis. The truth is, there are far too many animal medical conditions for which therapies do not currently exist.
It’s well known that cats try hard to hide pain, especially chronic, long-term pain. The animal medicines industry is researching new approaches to managing pain in felines, including finding ways to prevent or treat disease that leads to pain. And few things are scarier to a horse owner than hearing their horse has laminitis, which occurs when there is swelling and damage of the tissues between the hoof and the bones in the foot. The resulting lameness and diminished quality of life often results in euthanasia. Cattle, sheep and goats infected with Johne’s disease experience a decreased ability to absorb nutrients in the small intestine. The disease — for which there is no effective treatment — is highly contagious and potentially fatal.
Congress has an opportunity this year to play a role in spurring the development of more new and innovative therapies to improve the health and welfare of pets and help keep our food supply safe.
At the end of the month, veterinary experts will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the need to reauthorize the Animal Drug User Fee Act. This important legislation provides supplemental funding from industry to the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine to facilitate the review and approval of innovative therapies that keep all animals healthy.
The new agreement, which must be reauthorized by Congress by Sept. 30, 2023, is designed to improve the drug process and incentivize the development of therapies to address the unmet medical needs in animals. With Congress’ approval, this new agreement will provide a platform for industry and CVM to work together to ensure new and innovative therapies are available to pet owners, farmers, ranchers and veterinarians to help the animals in their care.
Advancements in animal health can also protect human health. The biology of cancer tumors in humans and dogs is similar in many ways, and cancer treatments that are safe and effective in dogs often work well in people. Since 2003, the U.S. National Cancer Institute has used information from studies in canine cancer to help guide studies of human cancer, and vice versa, a field known as comparative oncology.
For the $199 billion meat production industry, keeping animals healthy is a matter of animal welfare, public health, economics and sustainability. Advanced medicines and diagnostic tools that identify, prevent, cure and even eradicate disease in food animals help make the U.S. food supply among the world’s safest and most economical. Animal medicines also help farmers operate more sustainably and profitably. Healthy animals are simply more productive, since animals that struggle with disease require more resources, and may never produce as much as if they had never fallen ill.
While innovation in animal health has clear benefits, more work needs to be done. One in five animals in the global food chain is lost to preventable disease. This is not just bad for the animals, it’s a waste of natural resources.
To reach animal health, public health and sustainability goals, we need new, advanced medicines to address the many unmet medical needs of animals. A key to realizing these benefits is an efficient regulatory process that encourages innovation and enables the development of needed therapies. We urge Congress to help provide pet owners, veterinarians and food producers the tools they need to keep animals healthy by swiftly reauthorizing ADUFA.
Alexander S. Mathews is the president & CEO of Animal Health Institute. Mathews can be reached on LinkedIn.