Genes and cancer: Hot trend in veterinary product development
While the 2018 Investment Forum hosted recently by the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor was not specifically designed to focus on cancer in animals, many of the products presented did just that, and most of them had a genetic component to their technology. The forum, which allows animal health manufacturers to pitch their emerging products in a Shark Tank-like format, helps startup companies attain investment funding, licensing partnerships and more to help bring their products to market. Here are some of the coolest products we at dvm360 think veterinarians will be interested in.
Canine melanoma vaccine
Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy is “the hottest field in human health today,” says MBF Therapeutics CEO Tom Tillett. This form of immunotherapy, which can target both cancer and infectious diseases, alters an invading cell’s genetics via a vaccine delivery system. MBFT is working to bring a canine melanoma vaccine to market that would attack the tumor and its microenvironment, using checkpoint inhibitors to prevent the tumor from suppressing the host’s immune system.
Feline GI lymphoma test
In cats, the signs of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastrointestinal (GI) lymphoma are almost identical, says Andrew Barnell, CEO of Geneoscopy. But for lymphoma to be diagnosed, a cat has to undergo biopsy and sedation at a cost that many veterinary clients are unable or unwilling to pay. Many cat owners play the odds that their pet has IBD, Barnell says, but the odds are not great—45 percent of cats with this set of clinical signs (more than half a million present per year) actually have GI lymphoma. And while the condition is treatable if diagnosed early, the mortality rate for more advanced disease is high.
To address this dilemma, Geneoscopy has developed a test to diagnose GI lymphoma in cats that isolates a T-cell RNA biomarker in a stool sample. The test is non-invasive and much more affordable than the current protocol, meaning many more cats are likely to receive appropriate veterinary care.
Tumor-derived cancer vaccine
VetiVax, another company exploring immunotherapeutics for cancer, has developed a process that uses a portion of a veterinary patient’s own tumor to create series of vaccines. After a portion of the tumor is surgically excised at the veterinary clinic, the tissue is processed at VetiVax laboratories to create a multidose treatment administered subcutaneously once per week for three weeks. The deactivated tumor cells activate TH1 immunity in the patient, allowing release of the “killer cells” that attack the tumor, says Torigen CEO Ashley Kalinauskas. In its testing, VetiVax has treated more than 300 animals with different types of cancer in veterinary clinics across the U.S., with 70 percent of those patients exceeding their prognosis by an average of 2.14 times, Kalinauskas says.
Tumor gene profiling
Innogenics has developed a genomic test for cancer in dogs designed to optimize treatment, says Barbara Davis, president and CEO of the company. How it works: The veterinarian sends an already biopsied tumor to Innogenics; Innogenics performs a two-day assay of genes that are turned on and off in that tumor; Innogenics provides a detailed personalized genomic report to the veterinarian with recommended therapies. In human oncology, gene expression profiling of tumors is becoming the standard of care, Davis says.
While these companies are in various stages of commercialization—meaning it may be months to years before their cancer-related products are available to practitioners—veterinarians can get excited that smart people are out there in laboratories dreaming up new ways to help pets overcome this deadly disease.