Apr 10, 2023 - News

Raleigh startup wants to change cancer testing for dogs

Illustration of yellow lab whose dog collar has a cancer ribbon attached, instead of ID tags.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A young Raleigh startup is beginning to grab attention for its cancer screening tests for dogs.

Driving the news: Founded in 2020, Raleigh-based Oncotect has developed a urine test that it believes can become the standard of care for cancer screenings in elderly dogs.

  • The test is now being used by 30 animal hospitals, including many in the Triangle, according to the company's founder Chan Namgong, a serial entrepreneur from the area.

Context: Namgong isn't exactly who you'd expect to be leading an animal health startup. The South Korean-born and UNC-educated businessman previously founded the now-closed retail chain Bevello and co-founded the home-management platform HomeCloud.

  • But after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, he began reading academic journals about tests that could catch cancer early — especially one that used C. elegans (a type of roundworm) to detect cancer in urine.
  • He discovered that while there were many screening options for humans, there weren't many for dogs, despite an increasing number getting diagnosed with cancer.

After months of research, Oncotect (formerly known as Animal Cancer Dx) developed a test using the research of the company's chief scientist, Danny Midkiff, who was a student N.C. State University.

How it works: The Oncotect test, which costs around $199, works first by collecting one milliliter of urine from a dog.

  • The sample is then frozen and collected by Oncotect.
  • Results can come back within a few days and indicate the dog's risk level for cancer. If it comes back as high risk, additional diagnostic tests are then performed.

Why it matters: It's a potentially huge market for the company. Pet ownership has surged in the past few years, and average annual household spending on pets rose from $460 in 2013 to $770 in 2021, the Washington Post reported. The number would be higher if it excluded households with no pets.

  • A wide range of startups are seeking to tap into that willingness to pay for better care for their animals, including Cary's Truss Vet, which launched an urgent care facility for dogs and cats earlier this year.

What they're saying: Page Wages, of Care First Animal Hospital in Raleigh, said she has been impressed by Oncotect's tests and has used it to detect cancer in several of her patients.

  • "It's easy to use," she said in a phone call with Axios, and "it's now our standard recommendation when an older dog comes in."
  • Wages said that Oncotect also has an advantage to being cheaper than blood tests.

What's next: Namgong hopes to bring in more funding to expand his startup into other states and through at-home test kits.

  • So far, it has received a $200,000 investment from Leap Venture Studio, which is backed by Mars Petcare, and gotten $160,000 in grants from local groups, like the N.C. Biotech Center.
  • Namgong recently pitched investors at last month's CED Venture Connect conference in RTP, saying he hopes to finalize more funding in the coming months.

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