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Article: Animal care sector’s thirst for innovation continues to see increasing impetus

16 July 2020

The animal care space will continue working to drive growth in the coming decade by leveraging transformational technologies and trends. This is according to the author of a new IHS Markit Animal Health report on industry growth drivers, Joseph Burkett.

The quest for innovation in the industry has been accelerating tremendously over the past several years. The leading companies in animal care have been developing strategies to offset the maturation of their product portfolios, while working to diversify the way they offer complete health solutions to veterinarians, livestock producers, aquaculture professionals and pet owners.

While scale is, and will still be, important for development, several forces have led to an increased emphasis on new approaches to accessing innovative products and technologies via partnerships, collaborations, acquisitions or other means.

There are also several potentially transformational technologies and trends that hold promise for driving the growth of the animal care industry over the next decade.

External opportunities

Most importantly, as company growth strategies have shifted to include a significant emphasis on external opportunities to supplement internal development, the increase in demand for external innovation has been dramatic.

The availability of new technologies in animal care and a proliferation of partnership opportunities in recent years have rapidly expanded the sources of innovation for the industry's leading competitors. At present, virtually all the top players are proactively inviting collaborations with related industries and with start-ups to potentially create synergies with their current, core research programs.

The need for innovation in the animal care space is growing, and there are several areas that are accelerating the move towards leveraging external opportunities. For decades, consolidation has been a huge avenue for climbing the industry rankings in terms of sheer size, and consolidation will continue to be a large factor in that quest.

Today, however, industry elements like the emergence of an exciting start-up company ecosystem, strategic moves into adjacent and synergistic market areas, and increasing investments in an evolving biotechnology sector are adding significantly to the ways companies are working to maximize the value they bring to customers.

As the leading animal health companies have broadened their sources of innovation, their focus has been primarily aimed at four avenues of building growth as they seek to expand their portfolios and animal health solutions.

These four avenues include: internal research and development programs; life cycle management; formulation development; and external collaborations in the form of partnerships or deals.

External collaboration is a great lever to de-risk innovation and make the balance sheet lighter. However, management might need new tools when it comes to managing an external portfolio.

Multiple approaches

Accessing future sources of innovation and growth is likely to require multiple strategies. While the animal care industry still has several smaller firms that represent potential acquisition targets, the number of these companies that are big enough to bring immediate sales and profits to industry leaders is not vast.

Hence, there is increased interest in: translating innovation from the human health field into animal care; acquiring technology through start-ups; developing partnerships, collaborations and licenses that provide synergy with existing portfolios; capitalizing on the Internet of Things (IoT) and related digital opportunities; and looking at adjacent areas to the traditional animal care space, including nutrition, diagnostics and medical devices.

Digital and data

The digital revolution has embedded internet connectivity into the daily lives of almost everyone in the modern world.

IoT is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators and connectivity. This network enables things to connect, collect and exchange data.

Standard devices like laptops and smartphones, when embedded with technology capabilities commonly used today, allow farmers, livestock producers, veterinarians and pet owners the ability to remotely monitor and control a fascinating array of production, pet health or lifestyle enhancing factors.

Crop and livestock production are examples where digitalization and the IoT has already improved productivity and efficiency, with more technologies soon to burst onto the scene. In crop farming, drones are being used in soil and field analysis, planting, crop spraying/monitoring, irrigation and crop health assessment to improve productivity. Self-driving tractors, seed planting rate controllers, fertilizer and pesticide controllers and other such technology are also now commonplace.

Successful examples of benefits from digitalization are also aplenty in both livestock and pet health - telehealth, trackers, wearables that monitor vital health signs, implantable devices, artificial intelligence and 'Big Data' are becoming more prevalent. These technologies have the potential to provide the animal health and veterinary industries with opportunities to improve outcomes.

According to Grand View Research, the animal health and crop protection elements that make up the 'agri-tech' space were valued at around $5.8 billion in 2016 and are expected to grow more than 200% by 2025. Grand View noted milk production, breeding, feed management and animal movement/comfort are key areas.

Grand View also said the global market for companion animal wearables was estimated to be worth $1.4bn in 2018, including technologies that use GPS trackers, RFID sensors, motion sensors, cameras, antennas and transmitters. These devices allow the monitoring of animal movement, as well as the measurement of biomechanical and physiological systems. Grand View said the identification and tracking application segment is expected to dominate growth of the digital space in pet care over the next several years.

The new animal care industry that is currently emerging is a result of the broader view companies are taking in their R&D programs and in the ways they are defining and addressing their customer bases in the various market segments where they compete. The potential benefits of investing in the animal care market today have never been stronger and the related potential breakthroughs in animal medicine have never been more exciting.

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