A Perth biotech start-up is preparing to launch a commercial trial of a world-first microchip that allows farmers to remotely monitor the health of livestock at any time.
Founded in 2019 by a team of veterinarians and engineers, VetChip has announced the development milestone after launching a second round of capital raising last October.
The company’s microchip is implanted under the skin using a similar method to identity chips, and uses biosensors to continuously monitor temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygenation levels, and activity levels.
AI software interprets biometric data collected by the chip to determine an animal’s health status and detect abnormalities as they occur, with the information accessible through a phone app.
Fremantle-based veterinarian Garnett Hall, who spearheaded the technology, said it had attracted “a lot of attention” from industry and global animal health companies.
“It effectively gives these animals a voice, because they can’t tell you when they’re feeling unwell,” he said.
“If we can demonstrate that our technology has commercial potential, then the sky’s the limit for its potential adoption.”
VetChip raised $2 million in seed funding last year and opened another $5m funding round last October to conduct more clinical trials, refine its disease detection algorithms, and continue shrinking the device.
“A big focus moving forward is training our AI algorithms to assess health, welfare and performance,” Dr Hall said.
“Australia needs to invest in this sort of technology development if we’re really going to lead the world in smart agriculture and animal welfare.”
Capital is being raised through online agrifood innovation marketplace AgriFutures growAG, and when complete, will be used to conduct a commercial trial of the microchip over the next 18 to 24 months.
“VetChip has refined the technology to the point of commercial readiness, and with the right investment partners they are now ready to take that next step,” AgriFutures growAG senior Manager Arianna Sippel said.
Dr Hall said the company had also developed an application programming interface link to existing health record technology, allowing vets to make more informed decisions.
“It also functions as an identifier chip, so eventually we envision animal owners being given the choice of the standard microchip, or VetChip which does ID and health monitoring,” he added.
The technology is suitable for horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and domestic pets.
It will retail for about the same price as wearable health-monitoring collars developed by other companies, but offer “far more insightful health data”, according to Dr Hall.
VetChip was recently announced the Australian winner of Nestle-Purina’s global Unleashed Pet Tech Accelerator Program, and was selected as one of 12 recipients of the WA Government’s Asia Access Grants.