16/12/2015 7:57 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Ageing Pets To Live Pain-Free Thanks To Incredible New Vet Tech

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Portrait of Woman with Golden Retreiver

An Aussie company has developed a revolutionary treatment that allows old dogs and cats to live out their days without the crippling pain of osteoarthritis.

The treatment also does away with having to force your ageing pet to swallow a pill as it's administered by a monthly injection.

The therapy was developed by NexVet, a veterinary pharmaceutical company borne out of Melbourne by scientists Mark Heffernan and David Gearing.

More than 10 years ago, Dr Heffernan was living in Ireland, working at a company he founded called Opsona Therapeutics which was developing human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to combat rejection during transplant surgery and to treat cancer, when the family labrador Roger -- who they’d brought with them from Australia when they relocated -- became ill and sadly died.

And while the family was devastated, Dr Heffernan’s loss got him thinking about the lack of therapies and treatments available for companion animals.

“I started wondering why no-one had brought these high-end mAb pharmaceuticals to the companion animal world,” he told The Huffington Post Australia.

NexVet scientists Mark Heffernan with his dog Clover, and David Gearing with Chloe.

“I started thinking it through, and worked up a business plan and relocated back to Australia in 2011, and formed NexVet together with David Gearing, who’s our chief scientific officer -- I call him the brains behind the operation.”

Dr Gearing developed a platform called PETization which harnesses complementary DNA data to translate the high-end mAb pharmaceuticals between species.

The major benefit is that the platform creates species specific biologic therapies, which reduces common side effects often associated with traditional non-species specific medications such as internal bleeding, kidney and liver toxicity, diarrhoea and vomiting.

“What Dave did was that he pulled that information down for dogs and cats and humans etc, and crunched it into an algorithm that predicts the diversity of antibodies that exist in different species,” Dr Heffernan said.

And NV-01 -- for the treatment of inflammation and osteoarthritis in dogs -- was born.

It inhibits the activity of nerve growth factor (NGF) which is elevated in the joints of dogs with osteoarthritis.

It acts on pain-sensing nerve fibres and increases the sprouting of new nerve fibres into inflamed tissues. The mAbs target the NGF and help manage the chronic pain.

“In the human world, monoclonals have completely transformed the way humans are now treated for cancer and inflammation,” Dr Heffernan said.

“And we believe there’s a great opportunity here to do the same for animals.”

The NexVet team with company mascot Mack.

NexVet, which was listed on the Nasdaq in February, has just completed three-month clinical trials of NV-01 in 246 dogs in three countries, with more than 80 percent of owners reporting a vast improvement in their dogs’ mobility and comfort levels.

It’s great news for owners of pets looking for a solution to their animal's suffering -- in the US alone, pet owners spent more than $58.5 billion in the animal companion market, with $2.3 billion in 2013 spent on companion animal therapeutics alone.

Taking away the stress of pills

Another benefit of NV-01 is that it is administered via injection, so owners don’t need to try and wrangle a pill down their pets’ throats every day.

“The convenience of a single injection every 4 to 6 weeks that gives long-term pain relief far surpasses trying to fight with your cat or dog to pill it every day.

“That can be a real challenge; that compliance is a big issue, people just don’t do it -- so as a consequence, the quality of care of the animal is substandard.

“The injection guarantees the animal receives the required dose and one would hope, pain-free, for that period of time.”

Dr Heffernan said NV-01 was now in the hands of regulators, but hoped to launch the treatment in the market in 2019.

Early clinical trials of NV-02, for the treatment of chronic pain in cats, is also underway with 90 cats across 15 sites in the US taking part.

“There is currently no product for the management of chronic pain in cats,” Dr Heffernan said.

“Because cats have a weird liver, they can’t metabolise or breakdown traditional small molecule drugs and as a consequences it can lead to liver toxicity.

“mAbs work through a completely different mechanism to those drugs, they’re much more ‘natural’, so the body doesn’t fight them off.”

The company will also develop NV-08 for the treatment of canine inflammatory diseases, including atopic dermatitis, a common skin condition in dogs.