A dog has a chance at a cure if cancer is diagnosed very early and treated effectively. Unfortunately, cancer is found at an advanced stage for many of our dogs. Conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy might temporarily slow the growth, but in time, most cancers will develop resistance and spread.
What area of research is most promising if we are seeking long-term remission or true cures?
Miraculous disappearances of cancer in people, though rare, have been recorded since the beginning of history. But it has only been in the last few decades that the potential of our immune system to fight cancer and possibly even induce long term regression has come to be widely acknowledged. New immunotherapy treatments are being developed, demonstrating unprecedented long-term response in some human patients. What makes this treatment even more exciting is that it's not ‘poison’ like chemotherapy; it is generally well tolerated with minimal side effects.
Cancer Immunotherapy Potential:
Helps mobilize immune system to better target cancer cells
Can induce regression in
Can sustain long-tasting remission
Good safety profile with little side effect for most patients
CANCER IMMUNOTHERAPY FOR DOGS
But immunotherapy research for dogs is far behind that for people. Today, there is only one immunotherapy drug for dogs that has been fully approved by USDA, and only a small handful of new drugs with clinical trials underway.
We are focused on supporting new research efforts so that safe and long-lasting treatments can be brought to our dogs as soon as possible.
Why is immunotherapy more effective for some cancers and not for others? How do we make it work for more cancer types? Why does it work amazingly well for some patients but not others? How do we raise the tail i.e. a greater percentage of patients enjoy survival? To answer these questions for human patients, researchers are combining multiple immunotherapy approaches, genetically engineering T-cells, investigating correlations with patient's microbiome and more.
The difference between chemotherapy and immunotherapy is contrasted in survival curves depicted here: chemo merely shifts the curve to the right but effective immunotherapy results in a curve with a long tail, representing long-surviving patients. This is exciting but many questions still remain – both for people and for dogs.
We are focused on new immunotherapies that are effective for increasing numbers of canine patients, for increasing cancer types and for different cancer stages. Research programs will require careful data capture, multiple iterations and refinements of clinical studies, and collaboration of researchers, clinicians, pet owners and other stakeholders.