Yale's EGFR/HER2 Vaccine Helps Dogs With Metastasis?!

Updated: Aug 23

Canine Cancer vaccine developed by a Yale University team is helping dogs fight cancer where other treatments have failed.

I first learned about new vaccine-based immunotherapy created by Yale University researchers from a mom of a brave six-year-old St Bernard fighting cancer.

Stitch had his leg amputated after osteosarcoma diagnosis last winter, roughly a year ago. Despite all efforts, including keto-diet and immune-boosting herbal medicine, he was showing signs of lung metastasis by the summer. His mom, Amee Gilbert, was looking for options to help extend his life and came across Dr. Mark Mamula’s trial.

Dog with bone cancer
Stitch was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in winter of 2018

After learning about the vaccine, I reached out to Dr. Mamula to learn more about his project. I also researched the background publications and spoke with several pet parents who were trying the vaccine.

I was intrigued by the number of dog owners who were trying the cancer vaccine, and by how very few people in the veterinary oncology community knew about the trial.

Here is a summary of the Yale Canine Cancer Vaccine.

Why is Yale EGFR/HER2 Vaccine important?

Today’s standard-of-care treatment mostly relies on surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Unless cancer is found extremely early, these treatments usually only provide temporary relief to cancer’s progression.

Cancer therapeutic vaccines and other immunotherapy has the potential to produce very long remission times and possibly reversal of metastasis for some of the dogs.

Who developed the Yale Canine Cancer Vaccine?

A research team developed the vaccine at Yale University: Dr. Mark Mamula, a professor with the School of Medicine and Dr. Hester Doyle, a research scientist. They are experts in immunology, and their vaccine is the result of decades of work in understanding how the immune system is turned on or off.

Cancer researchers at Yale university who developed canine cancer vaccine
Dr. Hester Doyle and Dr Mark Mamula of Yale University

What are the possible benefits of this vaccine treatment?

Many dogs have experienced control of cancer growth and reversal of growth.

Some dogs with osteosarcoma have also experienced a reversal of pulmonary metastasis.

According to Dr. Mamula:

"We have had some patients with a very good outcome, though obviously, we can’t guarantee that for every patient. Much of the outcome depends on factors such as age, tumor type, the extent of the disease, and many other factors that we don’t fully understand yet”

Can vaccines be used to heal a body? I thought vaccines are for prevention.

Vaccines mobilize the body’s immune system to recognize and go after tumor cells as well as bacteria and viruses. Vaccines can be preventive or therapeutic. So they can also be used to control and fight cancer.

How does Yale Canine Cancer Vaccine help fight cancer?

EGFR and HER2 proteins are often over-expressed by tumor cells.

On the surface of tumor cells, roughly 10x to 100x more of these proteins are found compared to normal healthy cells. This over-expression is associated with aggressive tumor growth and poor prognosis.

With the injection of Yale vaccine, the dog’s immune cells become trained to recognize cells displaying EGFR proteins as ‘bad’ cells and to attack them.

The vaccine is made up of a short chain of amino acids (called peptides) which is part of the larger EGFR and HER2 protein. The same vaccine can target cells over-expressing EGFR and/or HER2 proteins on the surface.

The vaccine boosts the generation of antibodies that bind to EGFR/HER2 and inhibits intracellular signaling and inhibits tumor growth. The vaccine may also boost the population of cancer fighting T-cells.

Which veterinary clinics provide this treatment?

Originally, Yale team partnered with a veterinary oncology clinic in Connecticut to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. After launching the trial in 2016 and seeing positive results, the team made it possible for pet owners in different states to participate in the trial. The vaccine was shipped to the local veterinary clinics.

At the moment (Dec 2020), the clinical trial has been paused.

Once the team receives a provisional licensing from the USDA (the regulatory agency that oversees immunotherapy drugs in the USA), the study will resume.

(If you would like to be notified when the study resumes, please send an email to info@ccralliance.org and we will let you know as soon as the study is enrolling patients again).

How is the treatment given to the patients?

1. The vaccine is shipped to a local veterinarian in loaded syringes.

2. The vet administers two subcutaneous injections three weeks apart. Blood samples are also collected on these days and shipped to Yale University lab for analysis.

3. The third blood sample is collected on day 45-50 and sent to Yale University lab for analysis.

Which types of cancer are the vaccine being used for?

Currently, the vaccine is being offered to patients with

  • Osteosarcoma

  • Hemangiosarcoma

  • Nasopharyngeal cancer

  • Adenocarcinomas

  • Mammary tumors

  • Colon cancers

  • And other tumor types known to over-express EGFR/HER2