Founder and Head of Business Development at PetMedix
Dr Jolyon Martin is one of the founders of PetMedix, a Cambridge-based start-up taking the cutting edge of human medical science and using it to develop species-specific antibody therapies for dogs and cats. His PhD research underpins the company’s technology, and he has presented his findings in the UK, USA, and China.
Life has a funny way of steering our course. As a researcher passionate about animal health, I needed to find a new PhD project at very short notice when, fortuitously, Professor Allan Bradley explained to me his plan to bring the latest human medical science to bear for companion animals. Allan pioneered the field of mouse transgenics and its use to develop therapeutic monoclonal antibodies – my PhD focused on applying this research to dogs. Fast-forward five years and here I am with PetMedix, working hard to develop therapeutic antibodies for dogs and cats.
I grew up surrounded by dogs and the importance of their health and wellbeing was ingrained from birth. My mother made up one of her cavaliers as a show champion just hours before giving birth to me, much to the surprise and confusion of the midwife-trained head judge. She always emphasised the importance of factoring in heart scores and syringomyelia test results into her breeding, much more than type or show results.
What are you most proud of and why?
Professionally, it has to be being a co-founder of PetMedix alongside the experienced and highly-successful serial entrepreneurs Allan Bradley and Tom Weaver. Our investors really believe in transforming animal health and we have an incredible team of scientists whose combined expertise is helping to bring this dream to fruition. Plus, it’s great fun!
Personally, I was a ballroom dancer as a student and the proudest moment was captaining my university team to national champions as part of an undefeated season. The way everyone pulled together, both in training and competition, was incredible to be part of.
What innovation has got you to where you are today?
The species-specific monoclonal antibody approach of PetMedix relies on the cumulative efforts of many scientists over a number of decades, rather than on one single innovation. The entire process, from platform development through to drug discovery, relies on novel applications of methods and tools from molecular biology, genome engineering, immunology, artificial intelligence, and a range of other fields. This is partly why it hasn’t been done before, in spite of the obvious need and huge potential benefits. The breadth of knowledge required to develop and apply the PetMedix platform is substantial, but by using this approach it will be possible to develop therapies with far greater health benefits to patients than antibodies developed by older, simpler approaches.
What innovation has the greatest opportunity to change the health and welfare of animals?
I do truly believe that therapeutic antibodies will have the same transformative effect on animal health as they have had in human medicine. There are more than 80 FDA-approved antibody therapeutics in human health, treating a wide range of diseases that are held in common with dogs and cats, and this is a real chance for veterinary medicine to benefit from three decades and billions of dollars of R&D effort in human pharma. We know what works; we just need to apply that now.
What changes do you see in the animal health industry, and how might they impact veterinary medicine?
There are two themes that come up consistently: the changing nature of our relationship with our pets, and the changing attitude within the industry towards innovation. There is a greater demand from owners for higher quality animal care – and a combination of young start-ups and industry giants are starting to address this. Beyond novel therapies, innovations in diagnostics (be it genetic testing or otherwise) and an increased focus on quality of life are driving things in a direction that can only stand to benefit the animal, and by extension their owners and the vet team who care for them.
What can we look forward to next from PetMedix?
We are at the research and development phase so are a little way off approved therapies, but are actively looking to engage with the veterinary community throughout the process.
PetMedix has also commissioned a survey of vets to find out where the real unmet needs are, and we are always happy to hear from vets throughout the industry so we can work together to improve pet health.