Our cancers can be very similar; studies in pets yield valuable info for us
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – By the time you finish reading this sentence, another dog will have been diagnosed with cancer. It happens about every five seconds in this country, affecting roughly 6-million dogs each year.*
While the news is understandably troubling for the owners of those dogs, there is hope. Canine cancer research is a growing specialty and doctors are beginning to realize just how much humans can benefit from it, too.
At Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, veterinarians and cancer researches are working together to develop medicines and therapies to help both dogs and humans. The idea is to enroll dogs in studies to treat them with cutting-edge therapies, then for doctors to apply what they learn in those studies to human research.
“The goal is for us to provide new information for human clinical trials so that, when those human studies start, we can help them to better design their studies, so their outcomes are likely to be more accurate and positive” said Cheryl London, a veterinarian and cancer researcher at Ohio State University’s Veterinary Medical Center.
“About 80% of clinical trials fail in the early stages, and a little less than half fail in the later stages” says London, “which means that there’s obviously not enough information going forward when human clinical trials start. So, we want to help that process become more efficient and more accurate.”
But how can studying cancer in dogs help humans? Turns out, under the microscope, certain kinds of cancer are almost identical.
“At the molecular level they’re very similar to human cancers” said London, “so that means that the abnormalities that we find in human cancers are often found in canines as well.”
It’s an approach that has already proven to be effective. Over a decade ago, Dr. London was involved in testing a cancer drug called Palladia. It was so effective in treating dogs with cancer, that scientists developed a nearly identical drug for humans called Sutent.
“We did our clinical trial first in dogs, and then the Sutent clinical trials went forward and we informed the human side about the activity and the side affects of the drug” said London.
In the end, both were approved for use. In 2006 Sutent became the first drug ever simultaneously approved by the FDA for use in two different types of human cancer**, and in 2009, Palladia became the first drug ever approved specifically for treating dogs with cancer.*** Its success, London says, is due in part because researchers were able to treat dogs first and help design human studies as a result.
And that may be just the beginning. “We have three pharmaceutical companies right now that are having us test new drugs prior to entering the human clinical arena, who are asking us to tell them - what are the side affects? What is the activity of this drug? How best can it be used” London said.
Tracy Jenkins is one pet owner who has benefited from this dual approach to cancer research after noticing a lump on her Australian Shepherd named “Bear”. “We started feeling a little something on his salivary gland, in his throat on the right side, and it just grew pretty quickly.”
Jenkins took Bear to Ohio State’s Veterinary Medical Center where he was diagnosed with cancer. She immediately signed him up for a clinical trial and, ten months later Bear’s prognosis is good. “He’s now cancer free. The tumor is gone. It just basically dissolved.”
The Jenkins family says they feel indebted, not only because doctors were able to save their pet, but because much of the cost is often deferred. “These clinical trials are often run at no cost or limited cost to owners, so the advantage to the owner as well, particularly in this economy where, the veterinary medicine is a cash-for-service basis” said London.
“I’m just very grateful that Bear’s had a chance to be in the program, because, otherwise, I don’t know that he’d still be with us” said Jenkins.
*What is Comparative Oncology?, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://ccrod.cancer.gov/confluence/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=46137977
**FDA Approves New Treatment for Gastrointestinal and Kidney Cancer, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2006/ucm108583.htm
***FDA: First Drug to Treat Cancer in Dogs Approved, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm164118.htm