Your dog is a very good boy, but is he a healthy boy? Is he predisposed to any kind of conditions or illnesses?
Embark wants to help you answer those questions with the power of DNA. After launching its canine genetic testing product last year, the startup has relocated its headquarters from Austin to Boston and raised a $4.5 million round led by Cambridge-based Founder Collective, Freestyle and ThirdKind, the company announced on Tuesday. The round, which brings total funding to $6.5 million, also included 23andme CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki and Section 32, the new firm from Google Ventures founder Bill Maris.
The startup was founded by Adam and Ryan Boyko, who traveled the world over the past decade to collect thousands of DNA samples from dogs as part of their research into the origin of canines and what DNA can reveal about their health. That eventually led the Boykos to start Embark, which sells a dog DNA test to dog owners, veterinarians and breeders. Competitors include Wisdom Panel and DNA My Dog.
“It’s a really amazing opportunity to make dogs’ lives better and their parents’ lives better in the short-, medium- and long-term,” Ryan Boyko, Embark’s CEO, told BostInno.
Boyko said Embark relocated its headquarters from Austin to Boston for a few reasons. One of the bigger reasons is Boston’s large cluster of biotechnology companies, some of which Boyko has been talking to for potential partnerships. It also helped that Matt Barton, Embark’s CTO, had roots in Boston, making the move easier for him.
While the company will now be headquarted in Boston, the company’s main science team will remain based in Ithaca, New York, where Adam Boyko is an assistant professor in biomedical sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Here’s how Embark works: The DNA testing kit comes with a saliva collection kit you use to swab the inside of your dog’s cheek. You put the swab into a specialized container and ship it to Embark, where the company analyzes the dog’s DNA and checks for over 160 health conditions. The analysis also figures out what kind of breed your dog is. The results are then emailed to you with a link to Embark’s website that lets you browse other dogs with similar breed mixes and answer survey questions to help Embark’s research.
“In many ways, it’s similar to what you would find with 23andme.”
“In many ways, it’s similar to what you would find with 23andme,” Ryan Boyko said.
Boyko said one of the most interesting customer stories he’d heard so far is when the owner of a 12-year-old dog did the test and finally figured out that the dog had a condition that causes it to collapse due to hot temperatures. For years, the dog’s parents always wondered why the dog would collapse because of overheating, but they never knew what was causing it.
There was another case, Boyko added, where a dog was tested and found to be susceptible to bladder stones. A week after the test was sent back, the dog got them. While the dog’s owners may have been a little late in testing the dog — a dog’s risk for bladder stones can be lowered through a change in diet — Embark’s results helped the veterinarian understand the underlying reasons for the condition.
While Boyke was unable to share specific numbers, he said Embark has tens of thousands of customers.
“The mission is to end preventable diseases in dogs,” he said.