Vidium: A Dog’s Best Friend
Karie Dozer [00:00:03] If you've ever loved a dog, you know how hard it is to lose one, especially to cancer. I'm Karie Dozer, and this is TGen Talks. TGen is pioneering precision medicine for specific types of cancer in humans. But did you know the research also extends to canines? More than half of all dogs over the age of ten will be diagnosed with cancer. And TGen is helping to create new technologies to diagnose and cure cancer when it happens to man's best friend. For this version of TGen Talks, we're back in Phoenix downtown at TGen's headquarters, and we've got a guest on the program who's part of TGen, but a new part, sort of a spin off part. David Haworth, President of Vidium. Welcome to the TGen Talks podcast. Thanks for being here.
Dr. David Haworth[00:00:48] Great to be here, Karie. Thanks a lot.
Karie Dozer [00:00:50] Are you like a child of TGen? Tell me who Vidium is and how you came to be.
Dr. David Haworth[00:00:54] We are sort of like a child of t gen. So Vidium Animal Health is the animal health subsidiary, a fully owned subsidiary of TGen, which of course is part of City of Hope. So we get to leverage all of that extraordinary expertise of genomics and cancer knowledge and, you know, the incredible cutting-edge technology that TGen is generating and we could put it to use for animals.
Karie Dozer [00:01:17] You work with dogs. Well you don't work specifically with dogs. You work on medicine to help dogs. What does Vidium do?
Dr. David Haworth[00:01:24] Well, I am a veterinarian by training, so I do sometimes still work with dogs if they'll have me. But yeah, we are a diagnostic company so we have a genomic diagnostic test currently offer and have for the last two years that looks at tumors that happen in dogs. We get a piece of that tumor; we extract the DNA and we look at 120 of the most important genes that could drive the growth of that tumor uncontrollably. Now, most of those are very analogous to the same kind of genes we see in humans, but there are critically important differences between them. We have about 7000 publications for both the human side as well as canine specific that we've collated and curated into our database, which is called INSIGHT. And we then can tell veterinarians and pet families what are the mutations that are driving those tumors growth? And hopefully we can then leverage one of the human targeted therapeutics that are orally available and can be given to your dog at home to stop that tumor in its tracks and extend the life of our dogs, which is far too short anyway.
Karie Dozer [00:02:30] It seems like cancer occurs in dogs more often than it used to. Are more dogs getting more cancers?
Dr. David Haworth[00:02:35] Well, it would seem so. And so here's the two things to think about. First of all, dogs are what we like to say, relatively inbred. We selectively breed them. So golden retrievers, you know, the 350,000 golden retrievers that are in the United States are more closely related than a, you know, your family reunion. Right. So that's one thing. And inbreeding does tend to predispose dogs to cancer. So we have a higher representation in dogs of cancer than we do in people. However, cancer is also a disease of last resort. So certainly when I was young, we used to see or when I was even in practice 25 years ago, we would see a lot of hit by cars because dogs would run loose on the street. You never see dogs running loose on the street now or else there'd be an immediate Facebook outcry. Right? So dogs aren't getting hit. That means they live longer, their nutrition is better, that means they live longer. And when you live longer, unfortunately, cancer is the disease that's going to end up catching up with you.
Karie Dozer [00:03:31] Is there any research into what causes the dogs cancer? I know you're all about treating it, but. But do you do a little bit of that, too?
Dr. David Haworth[00:03:38] Oh, yeah, we do a lot of it. In fact, now and even in my previous roles, we've looked a lot about the causes of cancer. And the fact is it's the same kind of causes as we see in people, except very few self-inflicted ones. So you don't see dogs with lung cancer because of smoking.
Karie Dozer [00:03:54] They rarely smoke.
Dr. David Haworth[00:03:55] Rarely do just the bad ones. But then but we do see the same kind of obesity issues. We see environmental toxins. We can see radiation; we can see other kinds of toxins which cause it. But usually it's just bad luck. You know, we roll the genetic dice every time a cell divides. And if there's a mutation in one of those one of those genes that can drive a cancer forward or that set of genes that drive the cancer forward, then the cell starts to divide uncontrollably and breaks the rules.
Karie Dozer [00:04:25] You said at the beginning of our conversation that you are a veterinarian, and I have no doubt that your neighbors ask you to look at their dogs all the time. Needless to say, that's not what you do every day. Now, how did you get from being a veterinarian to being the president of video?
Dr. David Haworth[00:04:39] Long strange trip. I'd love to tell you that I always knew that I was going to do something like this. I graduated from veterinary school, also trained to have a Ph.D. at that time, did a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer therapy. I thought I was going to be an academic. I decided to go into private practice, was there for a short time, then joined Pfizer in their animal health division. I was there for 11 years, seven of them in. Research and development for in business development loved the whole idea of creating organizations and helping guide organizations forward. Then joined a group called Morris Animal Foundation as their president and CEO. Maurice is the largest funding agency for veterinary specific research. After that became senior vice president and president of PetSmart Charities Divisions. So PetSmart, we are giving away $70 million a year to welfare agencies across the United States and Canada. And that was that was wonderful. But I will say that my heart always stayed in science and medicine. And while the animal welfare community was fantastic and warm and welcoming to me, I always knew I wanted to get back to a little bit more hardcore science. And so that's what T Jen allowed us to do. As Dr. Trent said, Hey, there's, we think that it's time, there's the science is there. We can get to a price point that's low enough because remember, veterinary medicine is self-paid, right? Anything we do for everybody.
Karie Dozer [00:06:01] Who has a dog will tell you it's very selfish.
Dr. David Haworth[00:06:03] Yes, I know. And then, you know, it's on that note, it's always fascinating to me if you say, you know, I had my dog's knee repaired at the veterinarian and can you believe that it cost $3,000? And I say that's funny, because I had my knee repaired at a human physician. Can you believe it cost me $30,000? There is that pay aspect. But, you know, genomics and these technologies have come down in price to a point where we can actually offer them to a veterinarian, and then the veterinarian can in turn offer them to the pet families without putting, you know, an extraordinary burden on people.
Karie Dozer [00:06:36] But your goal, obviously, is to find the best tests, the best diagnostics available. What has video them done to date? What are you most proud of? What are your products that are out there?
Dr. David Haworth[00:06:44] You know, this team, I think the thing, to be honest, the most the thing I'm most proud of is the team that we've assembled. It is a group of mutually supporting, wonderful, extraordinarily intelligent and efficient people. They just love the mission that we do. And they put their hearts and souls into it all the time. What we've done to help the pets is launched. Two tests that we've we offer now Searchlight DNA is that 120 gene panel that we can look at tumors any kind of tumor from any kind of dog and tell the owners and the veterinarians what are those mutations that are driving the tumor growth. We also offer a histopathology service. I would argue it's the best one qualitatively in the country.
Karie Dozer [00:07:29] And what does it tell a dog owner?
Dr. David Haworth[00:07:31] So it's the same thing as a pathology report would look like for you or me. It's you take that tumor out, put it on a microscope slide. And these extraordinarily talented pathologists that we have will read that slide and say, here's the type of tumor that you're dealing with. This is what is it? And it's a bad version of that type of tumor or it's not such a bad version of that type of tumor. And here's what you need to be thinking about next. And then in development, probably the most exciting thing that we have is a test that's going to be launched probably late next year, which is a blood test for your dog to tell you whether or not there is cancer lurking somewhere in that body.
Karie Dozer [00:08:10] It's a simple screening that you can you don't have any concerns about cancer, but you want to know if there's something you can't see.
Dr. David Haworth[00:08:15] For dogs that are over six years of age, over four years of age, and in dog breeds that are predisposed to cancer, I think Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers or Bernese Mountain Dogs or Boxers or I could keep going. Or any time you see the veterinarian suspects cancer but can't ask because remember, we're dealing with dogs here. So if you or I have lower back pain and it's insistent or a headache, we can go to our doctors and talk about headache for two weeks. I think something needs to be done until a dog is pressing its head against the wall. You really don't know. So these early screening tests have really remarkable opportunities for us to catch cancer early and deal with it more effectively.
Karie Dozer [00:08:58] A simple blood screen for a dog over the age of six seems to be a no brainer. Is there any reason that once you release this product, that every vet won't want to have it, that every dog owner can't possibly access that?
Dr. David Haworth[00:09:12] Well, I will say, Karie, I love my profession and I love my professional colleagues. I will say that sometimes we're a little slow to adopt new technologies, but beyond that, so it comes down to education and marketing and just the thing, the basic blocking and tackling of introducing a new concept into the market that said, no, I don't think so. We're targeting a price to the veterinarian of $150. So there'll be some markup to the pet parent, but you can incorporate that kind of a test into your annual physical exam for your pet. And we have every reason to think that it's going to be a very useful test. But also there's about 65 million dogs that it'll be recommended for. So if we talk about a commercial opportunity there, it's also pretty, pretty mind boggling. Just 1% of those recommended dogs would turn out to be about $150 million in revenue.
Karie Dozer [00:10:01] What are the biggest stumbling blocks to what you do to developing a new product and to getting it, I guess, getting it on the shelves at a store or on the list of available options at the vet?
Dr. David Haworth[00:10:12] You know, I think there are the technical aspects. You know, these are not is not slam dunks. This isn't something you can just pick up or order from Amazon. It's just that these are pretty high-tech reference lab type of tests that require a great deal of background and great deal of expertise. And thankfully our team has it. So the technical risks and then there's the just the commercial aspects of it. How do you communicate effectively to veterinarians who are extremely busy right now and generally almost overwhelmed? Cancer is the number one fear of pet parents, yet pet veterinarians do not have very many options to deal with it. There are board certified oncologists. We actually have one on our team, but there's only about 400 of them. And so if you're in most places in the country, it's very difficult to access those oncologists. And so you tend to go to your general practitioner and general practitioners aren't allowed by OSHA to give some of those really hard-core chemotherapy options, even if families wanted to have them. So veterinarians are sort of stuck without very many options right now. And what we hope is by giving them the diagnostics to both screen for that cancer and then deal with the treatment of that cancer, because most of the human targeted therapies are orally available, veterinarians can prescribe them, according to the Animal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994.
Karie Dozer [00:11:38] Which other pet parents do not think of either? They've never heard of it.
Dr. David Haworth[00:11:42] Who would? Right. But according to that law, veterinarians can prescribe any drug approved by the FDA for any species, including humans, too, as long as we believe they'll be safe and efficacious. So I can use all of those human drugs and prescribe them. Now, you might say, well, wait a minute, David, but that's $100,000 and no pet parent can afford that. That's not true. Many of those are now coming off that and many of those are generic. And so you're talking about, yeah, they're not free, but they're manageable. And if we could get that oral treatment being prescribed by the veterinarian based on the diagnostics that they've run, then, you know, you're all of a sudden keeping that patient in your clinic, you're keeping the bond with that family, and you're helping that pet with cancer. And that's really the goal. At the end of the day.
Karie Dozer [00:12:29] What does being a child of TGen, if that's the right relationship, what does that mean for video? Is it being it an exchange of information? Is it mentorship? What does it do for you to be so closely related to teaching?
Dr. David Haworth[00:12:42] It's all of those things, as it's been explained to us and as we've experienced, part of Jen's mission is to incubate new, innovative ideas that can be commercially successful and spin those out. So what it's meant for us is over the past several years, we've received extremely good license terms for technology that come in so we can be the exclusive veterinary use of a given technology. We have received help through things like HR and IT and those kinds of things that a small company like ours probably couldn't do at the same level of quality by ourselves. We certainly received a lot of mentorship from the senior leadership of TGen. Tess Burleson’s my direct contact. She's my direct supervisor for all intents and purposes. And then lastly, we receive laboratory space. So for the first three years of the business, we've had our labs here in the building, in the headquarters of TGen on the fourth floor and processing commercial samples as they've been coming in. We've signed leased to have a new lab space, which we're pretty excited about free ups for the next incubated company for TGen that's going to be in North Scottsdale. So we're really excited about moving up there.
Karie Dozer [00:13:58] Anything that I missed about video about what's next on the horizon that you want people to know?
Dr. David Haworth[00:14:03] The thing I would say is these technologies aren't just for people. I understand that for most people, humans are the species that they want to help. It's not the case for some of us. Some of us we think that, you know, there's never there's never any evil in these guys. And we always get to be healers of the innocent. And that's a pretty groovy thing. So being able to leverage the technologies that come out of a place like TGen in order to help our four-legged family members, you know, there's nothing better. And I think it's pretty cool for your listeners just to know that TGen is, is, has that wide of the scope in its total mission.
Karie Dozer [00:14:46] David Howarth President of Vidium. Thanks for taking the time today. It's really fun to hear about what you're doing.
Dr. David Haworth[00:14:51] It's been a joy. Thanks so much. Thanks.
Karie Dozer [00:14:55] For more on TGen’s research, go to TGen dot org slash news. The Translational Genomics Research Institute, part of City of Hope, is an Arizona based nonprofit medical research institution dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. You can find more of these podcasts at TGen dot org slash TGen talks, Apple and Spotify and most podcast platforms. For TGen Talks I'm Karie Dozer.