Clinical Trials For Cancer Vaccine To Be Tested On Dogs

Photo by Hannah Lim on Unsplash

The Flint Animal Cancer Center of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital is looking to enroll 800 healthy, middle-aged pet dogs to help develop an all-new cancer vaccine that could potentially be used in humans.

According to the research website, the goal of the VACCS trial is to evaluate a new vaccine strategy for the prevention, rather than treatment of dogs with cancer.

The vaccine is initially the idea of a scientist, inventor, and director of Arizona State University’s Center for Innovations in Medicine, Stephen Johnson and his team. Johnston wanted the trial to be conducted in humans — but the costs and tedious procedure of acquiring certification held him back.

Before the trial, Johnston was introduced to Dr. Douglas Thamm, the current director of clinical research at the Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center. Thamm enlightened Johnson that the vaccine could be tested on animals, specifically dogs.

“The kinds of cancers humans and dogs get are very similar. The kinds of cancer that they get occur in the same environment that humans get cancer with. So, we breathe the same air, our lawns are sprayed with the same chemicals. Dogs are the perfect intermediate model in this specific situation,” Thamm says in an interview.

The clinical trials for the cancer vaccine will be conducted at Colorado State University (CSU), a leader in animal cancer research and treatment. Furthermore, the vaccine will act as a preventive measure against cancers of all kinds.

“As one of the top animal cancer centers in the world, CSU and our team are in an excellent position to lead this new clinical trial,” Thamm said. “We look forward to contributing to this groundbreaking research study.”

In particular, Thamm gave the idea that the vaccine can also be tested on dogs. Johnston and his team found a way to identify commonalities among cancerous tumors by screening 800 dogs who had at least one of the eight cancers most often found in canines. Using that information, Johnston created a potential one-size-fits-all vaccine that can help the canine’s immune system to prepare, anticipate, and attack any possible cancer threats.

“We anticipate if we vaccinate with these 31 components ahead of time, just like an infectious disease vaccine, the dog’s immune system will be prepared — pre-prepared to see a tumor and kill it,” Johnston says.

The new vaccine, called a multivalent frameshift peptide vaccine, was also found useful in mice and has shown to be safe for use in companion animals, the CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) said.

In contrast, decades of studies and research related to the development of a vaccine that could work on a multitude of cancer illnesses show that the task is merely impossible and too ambitious to accomplish. Notably, research says that cancer is a personal illness where the causes and effects could vary depending on individual circumstances.

Furthermore, it is difficult and too complicated to use a drug to target a general set of cancer triggers and expect to find it effective across a wide range of possible patients.

However, “this is a critical study in the evaluation of this vaccine,” Thamm said. “Testing this approach in dogs will serve as the perfect bridge to human studies.”

In the past, canines have also served as the testing ground for other cancer drugs. The cancer drug Imbruvica, for example, was first tested in dogs before being developed for humans.

To qualify for the study, dogs must meet the following criteria:

  • Dogs must live within 150 miles of the trial sites 
  • Dogs must be between six and 10 years old 
  • Weigh at least 12 pounds 
  • Have no history of cancer or autoimmune disease 
  • Have no significant illnesses that could result in a life span fewer than five years 
  • No current treatment with oral or injectable immunosuppressive medications 
  • Be one of 45 breeds

Healthy dogs of certain breeds, six years or older, will be randomized to receive either a series of vaccines similar to other routine vaccines that are given to dogs currently, or placebo vaccines.

Patients that receive the placebo vaccine are expected to develop cancer at normal rates. The trial will determine whether the vaccine can delay or prevent cancer development in the vaccinated group.

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