Currently, CCRA is focusing on research in different immunotherapy approaches to fighting cancer.
To learn about new promising canine cancer treatments (including efforts supported by CCRA as well as other independent trials), please read our BLOG posts.
The following projects are being supported by CCRA.
Yale Canine Cancer Vaccine
Vaccines stimulate a body's immune system and can be a preventive agent, as well as a therapeutic agent. This project is investigating the efficacy of EGFR-targeting vaccine in treating multiple types of canine cancers. Some canine patients have had remarkable responses, with lung-metastasis disappearing for several dogs. CCRA's support enables the research team to capture better data (including imaging) so that efficacy can be better quantified.
Non-Specific Immune Stimulating Drugs
Instead of targeting specific cancer-associated proteins, another approach is to provide general activation of the body's immune system, similar to the original Coley's Toxin. Two projects are pursuing this approach. One is with the University of Queensland, and the second is with a Canadian company, Novavive. As part of this effort, a study has been launched to measure the efficacy of Immunocidin for palliative use. Immunocidin is today approved for use with canine mammary tumors, but the project is investigating its off-label use with other solid tumors. The goal is inexpensive treatment options that may stabilize or shrink the tumor and help support a good quality of life.
Tumor Analysis and Multi-Antigen Vaccine
Today's canine cancers are treated with a 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 protein expression patterns of tumor cells. This must change.
Such a change is taking place for people. For human breast cancer patients, HER2-positive and HER2-negative patients with different tumor protein expression patterns receive different treatments often resulting in a 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 based on molecular analysis is needed 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, the University of Washington's Cancer Vaccine Institute researchers have 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. The team is now investigating to see if a 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
A 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 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 has rarely been used as part of cancer therapy due to its potential toxic side-effects. However, a team began exploring a novel and safe way to induce the cytokine IL-12 to fight cancer with minimal side effects. This work was originally launched by a Seattle-based biotech firm, Immune Design, in collaboration with Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center. A pilot clinical trial is being planned.