Veterinary scene down under: Australian animal biotechnology company wins 2024 Pet Care Innovation Prize, and more news


Updates on the small animal veterinarian raising awareness of the illegal wildlife trade; the former veterinarian now specialist medical oncologist at the forefront of melanoma research in Australia; and a global win for Aussie animal biotechnology company VetChip.

Shining a light on the illegal wildlife trade

Cameron Murray, BSc, BVMS, working with wildlife in Africa (Image Courtesy of Cameron Murray)

Cameron Murray, BSc, BVMS, working with wildlife in Africa (Image Courtesy of Cameron Murray)

Away from the 4 small animal veterinary practices he co-owns, Cameron Murray, BSc, BVMS, has a strong interest in wildlife conservation. Starting with his involvement with SAVE African Rhino Foundation he is now also a director of the charity organization Nature Needs More, which is focused on demand reduction projects to diminish the illegal global wildlife trade.

Murray’s passion for wildlife conservation has led him to playing a vital role in raising awareness of wildlife trafficking and educating veterinarians about how they can help make a difference. Nature Needs More works on tackling the key systemic enablers of the illegal wildlife trade, including consumer demand for wildlife products and the deficiencies in the legal trade system under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“To give an understanding of the scale of the wildlife trade on a global basis, legal trade is currently estimated to be worth as much as USD$260-320 billion annually and if you include illegal trade this may be as high as USD$500 billion. The legal trade is monitored, regulated and managed, however that the legal and illegal trade are currently functionally inseparable, and until steps are taken to modernize the management of legal trade, the issue of illegal trade will remain an unwinnable battle,” Murray explained to dvm360. “Through Nature Needs More, we’re advocating for a program of modernization of CITES. This is because the landmark Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report of 2019, suggested that 1 million species in the world face extinction, and that direct exploitation through trade was the biggest single threat to marine species and the second largest behind habitat loss for terrestrial and fresh water species.”1

Analysis of CITES wildlife trade records and published literature has revealed massive numbers of animals are traded live every year, with many presumably destined for the exotic pet market. “These records highlight the staggering numbers of species caught up in the global wildlife trade, with over 500 species of bird—approximately half of which are parrots, almost 500 species of reptile—mostly turtles, lizards and snakes, and over 100 species of mammal—mostly carnivores and primates,” said Murray. “For Australia this has particular relevance for our reptiles, which can be relatively easily smuggled. Sadly, smuggling Australian native species is considered a low-risk crime and there is significant financial motivation for criminals to illegally export Australian wildlife for the overseas exotic pet trade.”



A 2021 report compiled Australian seizure data and international online trade data pertaining to shingleback lizards, found that all 4 subspecies were involved in illegal trade.2 “This is important as 2 of these shingleback subspecies come from very limited ranges and populations. As such, a trade of this nature poses a real threat to species survival and biodiversity loss. All of us should be concerned with regard to the issues of biodiversity loss but in addition, the trade in wildlife also raises issues around animal welfare, zoonotic disease spread, biosecurity issues and more,” Murray said.

“Veterinarians can play an important role by having a stronger voice for change in the trade of wildlife, and as veterinarians we are well placed to play a stronger lead in the area. We should also be aware of the fact that there is active poaching of native species and be vigilant to this possibility. We also have an opportunity to see that penalties associated with wildlife crime are more of a deterrent and finally, I would encourage everyone to look behind the management systems of wildlife trade and consider joining me in advocating for a modernization of CITES,” Murray added.

Former veterinarian at forefront of melanoma research in Australia

After working as a veterinarian for almost a decade, Peter Lau, BSc (Hons), BVMS, MBBS, FRACP, PhD, changed his focus and graduated in human medicine in 2007 before becoming a specialist medical oncologist. Currently based at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth, Lau and his colleagues Jonas Nilsson PhD, and Zlatibor Velickovic, PhD, are now at the forefront of cancer research in Australia with cellular immunotherapy for human melanoma patients.

Cell therapy using Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TILs) involves surgically removing a patients melanoma deposit, extracting out the T cells or lymphocytes which act against the cancer. “We then grow those cells in a specialized laboratory expanding them to extremely high numbers in the order of billions. Patients are admitted into hospital, receive chemotherapy and then are injected with the TIL treatment which destroys the tumor. The technology for cellular immunotherapy was developed in Europe and the US but is not currently available in Australia. Our recent grant funding will go towards manufacturing this treatment for the first time in Australia,” Lau explained exclusively to dvm360.

“For decades metastatic melanoma has been a terrible cancer to treat but with immunotherapy such as pembrolizumab we can now literally save lives. These conventional immunotherapies don’t work in all patients hence the need for new treatments like cell therapy. We do have a way to go in terms of curing everyone from the disease but cell therapy research like this can help close that gap. It’s very satisfying to be at the forefront of treatment and cancer research.”

Although Lau no longer works as a clinical veterinarian, he credits his early career in the veterinary profession with setting him up for success in the adjacent field of human medicine. “My interest in immunology started a number of years ago listening to a talk from professor [Peter Doherty, PhD] at an Australian Veterinary Association Conference many years ago. Professor Doherty originally trained as a veterinarian and made key discoveries in how the immune system recognizes cells infected with viruses which led to a Nobel Prize. It was quiet an inspirational talk and I ended up in medicine as a result. Vet training did teach me a lot about persistence which is really needed with research,” Lau said. “Canine melanoma is also treated with similar drugs as we use in humans so its quite nice to see the benefit of these immunotherapies for our 4-legged friends.”

VetChip awarded 2024 Pet Care Innovation Prize

VetChip, an Australian animal biotechnology company, won the 2024 Pet Care Innovation Prize, earning a cash prize and support from Purina. VetChip was 1 of 5 pet care startups from across the world that pitched their businesses to pet industry influencers and investors at the recent Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Florida.

The biotechnology company is dedicated to improving animal health and welfare through pioneering technology that monitors, analyses, and detects pet health issues. VetChip cofounder and veterinarian Garnett Hall, BVSc (Hons), travelled to the US for the event.

Garnett Hall, BVSc (Hons),VetChip co-founder (Image courtesy of VetChip)

Garnett Hall, BVSc (Hons),VetChip co-founder (Image courtesy of VetChip)

"The VetChip team and I are extremely grateful for the support we have received from Purina through the Pet Care Innovation Prize. Developing technology like ours is incredibly difficult, and partnerships with leading animal health and technology companies are essential for us,” said Hall exclusively to dvm360.

“2024 is off to a great start, and the remainder of this year will see us commence pre-commercial trials in several of our key markets. I am looking forward to using our technology to improve the health, welfare and performance of military dogs and and performance horses before the end of the year—more to announce soon.”

VetChip has developed an innovative implantable smart microchip for animals that can monitor the animal’s temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and tissue oxygenation. VetChip has many applications, including in companion animal practice, for primary producers enabling better herd health management, and for in equestrian sports and horse-racing.


  1. IPBES. Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Published online May 4, 2019. doi:
  2. Heinrich S, Toomes A, Shepherd CR, Stringham OC, Swan M, Cassey P. Strengthening protection of endemic wildlife threatened by the international pet trade: The case of the Australian shingleback lizard. Animal Conservation. 2021;25(1):91-100. doi:
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