Modern animal health, as we now recognise it, began in 1761 with the founding of the world’s first veterinary medicine school in Lyon. Since then, the animal health industry has been responsible for a steady stream of innovation. The first vaccines against anthrax and rabies were developed in the late 19th century, with protection against other common diseases, such as foot and mouth and brucellosis following in the early 1930s.
The last 20-30 years has seen further advances, improved vaccines, analgesics, anaesthetics and cancer treatments, reflecting the animal health industry’s commitment to investing in research; as much as 10 per cent of turnover. However, in recent years, the level of investment in research has tailed off slightly, currently sitting at 8 per cent. Many companies are finding growing barriers to innovation, making it increasingly difficult to realise a return on their investments.
There are a number of reasons for this. Socio-political debates involving certain products, and a reportedly unharmonised regulatory process play a role in the small decline in R&D investment. The process of bringing a new product to market is both expensive and time consuming. Embracing advances in safety assessments, such as in vitro testing of vaccines, could accelerate the processes and reduce the investments, but there is a reluctance to accept these technologies among some regulatory bodies, keeping the costs higher. This is a cause for concern; increased trade, climate change and global patterns of migration are posing new risks and threats; it is important that Europe has the innovative capacity and the speed to respond quickly to emerging threats.
The industry also contributes to other research and development programmes. It is a contributor to STAR-IDAZ, the global Strategic Alliances for the Coordination of Research on the Major Infectious Diseases of Animals and Zoonoses. This is a consortium dedicated to strengthening the linkages in global research to maximise the impact of global research efforts on high priority infectious diseases of animals, including zoonoses. It is also identifying and bridging research gaps in over 30 targeted and emerging diseases through developing vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. It also helped fund DISCONTOOLS, an initiative to improve and accelerate the development of new diagnostics, vaccines and pharmaceuticals for animal diseases.