We are aggressively exploring different immunotherapy approaches to fight cancer. The following projects have been launched and are currently in pre-clinical phase of the effort.
RNA and Protein Expression Analysis
Today's canine cancers are treated with one-size-fits all approach based on the organ where the cancer is found. A bone cancer (osteosarcoma) patients are recommended the same therapies, regardless of the difference in the mutation or the proteins expressed by a patient's tumor cells. This must change.
For human breast cancer patients, HER2-positive and HER2-negative patients with different tumor protein expression patterns receive different treatments often resulting in dramatic extension of survival times. Similarly for human glioblastoma patients, protein expression analysis of tumor cells that had been removed during surgery can lead to very different treatment options. Such personalized treatment approach is a must for our dogs.
We are now collecting fresh tumor samples and providing them to cancer researchers. They are identifying unique antigens or cancer-associated proteins that can be targeted by new immunotherapy.
For example, University of Washington's Cancer Vaccine Institute researcher, Dr. Denise Cecil, has developed new therapeutic vaccines for human cancer patients. The vaccines target multiple antigens that are commonly over-expressed by stem cells that play a key role during cancer metastasis. Her team is now investigating to see if similar set of proteins are over-expressed by canine tumors. Canine study participants are being enrolled and samples that have been removed during treatment surgery are being carefully analyzed. The result of this study may lead to the launch of a clinical trial to see if the vaccines can safely and effectively extend the lives of canine patients..
CAR-T Cell Therapy for Canine Sarcomas
Sarcoma is a rare form of cancer for people. Only about 1% of human cancers are sarcomas. But for dogs, it is one of the most prevalent cancer types. For both canine and human patients, treatment options are very limited.
One very promising area of research is a form of cell-based immunotherapy where patients' T-cells are extracted and modified ex-vivo (outside the body) so that they can better target cancer cells. The T-cells are then reinfused back into the patient. This form of immunotherapy is called CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor) therapy. It has proven to be extremely effective for putting some human blood cancers into remission. A team of researchers led by Dr. Seth Pollack at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is now trying to apply CAR-T therapy to sarcomas in canine patients. They will be focusing on osteosarcoma and soft tissue sarcomas, both of which are today deadly for canine patients after metastasis.
Pro-inflammatory Cytokine for Canine Cancers
Cytokines are powerful molecules that are excreted by immune cells to turn up or turn off heir ability to fight pathogens and cancer. Because of their potency, direct infusion of cytokines such as IL-2 has been known to cause toxic side effects and have not been used as part of cancer therapy. However, a team is now exploring a novel and safe way to induce the cytokine IL-12 to fight cancer with minimal side effects. This work was led by a Seattle based biotech firm, Immune Design. The firm was acquired by Merck & Co in 2019 and the project will continue and a pilot clinical trial is planned for 2020.