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Cancer Immunotherapy for Dogs - What is it?

Cancer immunotherapy is a treatment that helps the body's own immune system find and attack cancer cells. By recruiting the immune cells, it is fundamentally different from conventional therapy such chemotherapy drugs that directly tries to kill cancer cells.

Immunotherapy is revolutionizing cancer treatment for human patients. Several new immunotherapy treatments have brought unprecedented long-term remission to patients with melanoma and certain blood cancers. Researchers are exploring ways to make immunotherapy effective for other cancer types.

What are the benefits of immunotherapy?

Some of the major benefits include

  • possibility for long term (i.e. durable) remission

  • potential to reverse metastasized cancer

  • possibly milder side effects compared to conventional therapies

What are its limitations?

For human patients, today's limitations are

  • immunotherapy works for subset of patients

  • immunotherapy works well for only certain cancer types

Research is underway and thousands of clinical trials are enrolling (human) patients to better understand safety and efficacy of different immunotherapy approaches.

What are the different kinds of cancer immunotherapy treatments?

Immune system includes many different types of specialized cells and molecules that interact to fight threats to our health. Some new immunotherapy treatments focus on activating powerful cancer-fighting T-cells. Other treatments focus on protein molecules that play a role in inhibiting or enhancing the immunity of patients.

Here are some of the major categories of immunotherapy treatments

  • VACCINATION - to train the immune system to recognize and target cancer-associated antigens.

  • ADOPTIVE CELL THERAPY - where patient's cancer-fighting T-cells are removed from the body, re-activated and multiplied and then returned to the body.

  • CHECKPOINT INHIBITORS - drugs that stops cancer cells from deactivating the immune cells

Does immunotherapy work for dogs?

Yes! While there are some subtle differences, immune system in people and dogs are very similar. So immunotherapy treatments have strong potential for helping canine patients.

What immunotherapy treatments are available for canine patients?

Research in cancer immunotherapy for dogs is far behind that for human patients. But there is a small number of treatments that are available for patients today.

  • Oncept vaccine for stage 2 oral melanoma patients

  • Torigen Pharmaceuticals has an open trial for their autologous vaccine (cancer vaccine made from patient's own tumor cells to activate immune cells)

  • ELIAS Animal Health's personalized adoptive cell therapy for osteosarcoma patients

  • Immunocidin immunity enhancer for mammary tumors. There is good reason to believe it can help dogs with other types of cancer.

  • Yale canine cancer vaccine is being tested with EGFR/HER2-expressing tumors

Some of these treatments have been tested with large number of patients and have full approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for veterinary use. Many are still in experimental trial phase to validate the efficacy and safety of the new treatment.


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