ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s genetic horse-testing startup EquiSeq trotted into the center of this month’s edition of the Painted Horse Journal, a national magazine produced by the country’s second-largest horse association.
In the horse industry, that’s the equivalent of hitting the mainstream. The journal is produced by the American Painted Horse Association, which boasts 50,000 members, second only to the American Quarter Horse Association.
The magazine has 10,000 subscribers and a total of about 30,000 readers. But those are prime industry movers and shakers, including trainers and breeders who manage horses to maximize potential, said Jessica Hein, Paint Horse Journal editor.
Hein wrote the seven-page story, which featured EquiSeq’s genetic research and discoveries about a muscle-wasting disease known as Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, which afflicts many horses and is the target of EquiSeq’s first commercial testing services.
“These types of healthcare stories are the most popular with our readers,” Stein said. “We’re trying to educate our members more about the disorder, and we appreciate what the company (EquiSeq) has done,”
EquiSeq, an ABQid business accelerator graduate, launched in 2015 with genetics technology developed at the University of New Mexico. It created the first gene-based test for PSSM2, the genetic disease type that can lead to muscle-wasting disease.
It launched a commercial testing service last summer for one disease-related gene, reaching $1,000 a month in sales by December. It projects $10,000 a month by year-end.
It’s now targeting more disease-connected genes, said EquiSeq founder and chief scientific officer Paul Szauter.
“We began selling tests in July 2016 for a single genetic variant,” Szauter said. “But it’s a complex trait with more than one gene responsible, so we’re adding more testing services for other variants.”
Muscle wasting is a late onset disease generally noticed only when horses begin showing symptoms. Until now, caretakers had to send biopsies to labs for genetic testing at a cost of about $500. An EquiSeq test costs $100.
The company is developing tests for more diseases, and it will offer genetic trait-testing for performance potential.
Genetic testing for horses is a $500 million market in the U.S. and $3 billion worldwide. It’s dominated by established businesses and universities that offer services, so rather than compete, EquiSeq will license its tests out.
“We want to partner with companies and universities,” said EquiSeq CEO Lexi Palmer. “Our central goal is to educate people about the benefits of genetic testing that can save horses.”
EquiSeq is now raising private funding to grow. It received a $100,000 investment in April from the UNM Foundation’s co-investment fund, said Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech-transfer office.
“The potential for this technology to transform the equine industry is phenomenal,” Kuuttila said. “It provides much more sophisticated tools for screening horses that were previously unavailable.”