New high-tech medical devices for dogs and cats may help save humans.
From the looks of it, Dabo appears okay. He has the run of the examination room — panting, pacing, and sniffing all corners until veterinarian Don Schrope and his five assistants lift the young German shepherd onto the table and ready him for heart surgery. Dabo suffers from patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), which means the flaps controlling the blood flow from a major artery (the ductus arteriosus) stay open (patent), causing poorly oxygenated blood to flow back through the heart. Deprived of oxygen, the heart weakens. PDA is the most common congenital heart disease in dogs; a large PDA left untreated usually ends in heart failure. But Dabo is in luck. For about $4,000, Schrope and his team at Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, N.J., are going to make a small cut near Dabo’s groin, push a wire through his artery, and deploy a finely stitched disk of nickel titanium next to the big dog’s heart. The mesh will cause clotting, then scarring, and the PDA will be no more. The device is called a canine duct occluder (similar to the plug pictured above). It is one of about 20 products manufactured by Infiniti Medical, a company based in Menlo Park, Calif., that makes nothing but medical devices for animals.
We own more pets and spend more on our kept critters every year. In the U.S., the payout for pets has nearly quadrupled since 1994 and will top $55 billion this year. Vet care (visits, procedures) accounts for $14 billion. “In our mind [devices are] a $1.5 billion market. There are more pets than there are children in the U.S.,” says Jeffrey Solomon, a co-founder of Infiniti. The comparison is apt. People treat pets like family members, and Infiniti’s approach is similar to that of companies that make devices for humans. Infiniti’s lead investor and adviser, Thomas J. Fogarty, is a legendary (human) heart surgeon and inventor. Solomon’s background is also in human medicine — he studied radiology. The biggest difference in devices for animals is that “it must be simple enough for someone who isn’t a specialist to deploy,” Solomon says, adding, “The innovation can go both ways.” He means that one day, perhaps, Infiniti’s devices could save humans too.
This story is from the November 18, 2013 issue of Fortune.