Weekly companion animal news for February 10, 2020

Merck announces women’s health spinoff

Merck announced with its fourth quarter financial results that it will spin off its women’s health division and other operations with $6.5 billion in annual revenues, the Associated Press reports. Although the drugmaker said the two resulting companies would be able to grow faster and develop more new medicines to benefit patients, the announcement led investors to sell off shares, pushing prices down. The move is part of a shift in Merck’s operations over the past several years, the AP notes, from a primary care drugmaker with more than 160 products, to a company with half as many, focused on its young oncology business and growing sales of its vaccines, hospital products and veterinary medicines.

Lemonade to expand into pet insurance


Lemonade, a property insurance provider, announced plans to enter the U.S. pet insurance sector sometime this year, Today’s Veterinary Business (also published by NAVC) reports. The New York-based company is marketing its pet policies as providing “lightning-fast claim payments” and “best-in-class customer service.” Through Lemonade’s Giveback program, underwriting profits will be “donated to causes our policyholders care about.” The company expects to launch its pet insurance “within a few months, pending regulatory approval.” Lemonade joins more than a dozen companies that sell about $1.5 billion a year in pet policies, covering more than 2.4 million U.S. cats and dogs.

Nutramax launches allergy supplement for dogs

Animal health product manufacturer Nutramax has launched Dermaquin, a supplement to improve dogs’ resistance to allergens. The soft chews help “fortify and support the skin’s natural barrier, making it more difficult for allergens to cause an allergic response,” according to the announcement. Among the key ingredients is hardy kiwi, which is used in East Asian medicine to improve response to allergens, Nutramax says. Other ingredients include beta-glucans, gamma-linolenic acid, ceramides and omega-3 fatty acids. The chews are available for small/medium and large dogs and are exclusively sold by veterinarians.

FDA tries again to address veterinary drug compounding

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance for animal drug compounding, outlining circumstances under which the FDA would refrain from enforcing rules prohibiting drug compounding from bulk ingredients. The agency released the proposal in late November and is taking public comments through February 18. Compounding is the practice in which drugs are altered in dosage, form or flavor to accommodate the specific needs of individual patients, Christy Corp-Minamiji writes for the VIN News Service. It’s an important tool in veterinary medicine, given how much veterinary patients differ from each other, but stakeholders disagree on how it’s best carried out: The FDA argues that compounded preparations should be made from existing FDA-approved products whenever possible, while some large compounding pharmacies use non-FDA-approved active pharmaceutical ingredients, saying the FDA lacks legal authority to regulate the process.

Former pharma executive indicted for selling false pet cancer drugs

A former pharmaceutical executive has been charged with selling unapproved drugs he claimed were capable of curing canine cancer. Federal prosecutors indicted Jonathan Nyce on February 4 for marketing products under the names “Tumexal” and “Naturasone,” costing pet owners hundreds of thousands of dollars by claiming his medicines could treat “a wide variety of cancers” and restore sick pets’ “appetite, spirit and energy.” Prosecutors say the drugs, which weren’t FDA-approved, were simply a collection of bulk ingredients he mixed at a facility in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Nyce allegedly charged pet owners for access to clinical trials he claimed he was running for other promising treatments. One Illinois woman, referenced in the indictment, paid Nyce more than $5,000, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Nyce was previously convicted of the murder of his wife.

Bill would ban sale of cats, dogs and rabbits at NY pet stores

Support is growing for a bill in the New York state legislature that would ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores. Supporters say this will cut down puppy mills, but some store owners say they’re being unfairly punished for the unethical practices of others, Northeast Public Radio reports. Michael Gianaris, deputy majority leader of the New York state senate and the sponsor of the bill, said it’s necessary because too many of New York’s pet stores rely on animals from poorly regulated, out-of-state puppy mills where animals are mistreated, kept in windowless cages and often sick. Advocates say plenty of shelter animals are available for adoption, and shelters are open to working with pet store owners to arrange adoption clinics at their stores. While supporters say animal purchases only make up 2 to 4% of pet store sales, one store owner said it’s 80%. “We would be out of business in a week,” he said.

Animal lovers in China help pets during coronavirus

With the Chinese city of Wuhan on lockdown, people are worried about their pets, many of whom are stranded at home. Wuhan, where the coronavirus is believed to have surfaced, has been on lockdown since January 23, after 5 million people left the city for the Lunar New Year holidays. Up to 50,000 pets have been left at homes in the city, estimates Lao Mao (whose adopted nickname means “Old Cat”). Mao has been helping the stranded pets, whose owners can’t get back to Wuhan to feed and care for them. “The volunteers on our team, me included, have saved more than 1,000 pets since January 25,” Lao Mao, who declined to disclose his real name because he didn’t want his family to know he was out and about in the city, told Reuters.

Nominations open for Hero awards

American Humane and Zoetis are asking for nominations for the seventh annual Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse awards. Veterinarians and nurses nominated online by April 2 will be cut to five finalists, after which the public will be able to vote. The winners will be announced in September at the 10th annual American Humane Hero Dog Awards ceremony. The veterinarian award is open to all professionals, including those who work in small or large animal medicine, research, emergency services and shelters.