For the past 10 years, a team of MU veterinary researchers has collaborated with a medical biotechnology company in Kansas to design a clinical trial for an immunotherapy cancer treatment for dogs.
In the past year, they have seen promising success.
Osteosarcoma is a common bone cancer that affects about 10,000 dogs a year. This type of cancer affects both humans and dogs similarly, but it is 10 times more common in dogs than in humans, said researcher Jeffrey Bryan, a professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
The common treatment is chemotherapy, but it is rarely curative in dogs and has proved to mainly delay the recurrence of the cancer, Bryan said. About 90% of the time or more, the dog still ends up dying of the cancer.
Bryan and a veterinary oncology team have been working closely with ELIAS Animal Health to design a trial around a new immunotherapy treatment. Rather than poison the cells with chemotherapy, the experimental treatment prompts the immune system to recognize and kill the cancer cells.
The first clinical trial has just been completed and included 10 dogs that successfully received the entire treatment, Bryan said.
After the treatment, five of the 10 dogs survived for more than two years. The average survival rate from the study was 415 days.
Dogs in the study received an amputation, and tumor cells were immediately collected from the removed limb and sent to the ELIAS laboratory, Bryan said. The cells became part of the vaccine development.
The dogs were given the vaccine, typically three doses, with the purpose of presenting the abnormal proteins of the cancer cells to the immune system, Bryan said.
“If those are presented to the immune system in the proper way, then the immune system can recognize them as not being proteins that ought to be present in the body, kind of like a viral protein shouldn’t be present in the body,” he said.
The immune system can recognize these proteins as abnormal, prompting the system to make white blood cells, called lymphocytes, that are designated to target the abnormal proteins.
After the vaccine was administered, the lymphocytes were sent off to an ELIAS lab where researchers expanded their number and activated them to become targeted killers of the cancer. The white blood cells were then infused back into the dog’s body to destroy the cancer cells.
“This is one of a small handful of studies of dogs treated for this bone cancer without chemotherapy that did well,” Bryan said. “It’s promising in that way.”
ELIAS is only offering this treatment on an experimental, commercial basis, but owners can pay to have the treatment on a dog at an ELIAS lab. They are also conducting a larger follow-up clinical trial.
The next step is to set up clinical trials of this immunotherapy treatment in humans, Bryan said.
The Food and Drug Administration has already granted another biotechnology company in Kansas, called TVAX Biomedical, the authority to begin human trials to treat glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain cancer.
Meanwhile, Bryan is developing plans to discover why some dogs in the initial study did not survive in order to to plan an even more successful outcome.
He also wants to expand the study to determine how immunotherapy could help treat other cancers in dogs, as well as cancer in other animals, such as horses and cats.
“It has been a long time coming, and it is exciting to see it reach a point where it is helping animals,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the outcomes of human trials down the road to see if we can use the same approach to help people too.”