Stephanie Foster (right), enrolled her dog, Fraser, in the new study. He was among the first dogs to receive a vaccination at CSU. Photo: Kellen Bakovich/Colorado State University
As part of the largest interventional canine clinical trial ever conducted, veterinarians leading the Vaccine Against Canine Cancer Study seek to enroll 800 healthy, middle-aged pet dogs to evaluate the effectiveness of a new cancer prevention vaccine.
The clinical trials portion of the study is led by Colorado State University’s Dr. Douglas Thamm, director of clinical research at the Flint Animal Cancer Center at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
“As one of the top animal cancer centers in the world, CSU and our team is in an excellent position to lead this new clinical trial,” Thamm said. “We look forward to contributing to this groundbreaking research study.”
Because of the size and scope of the project, three veterinary schools will participate in the clinical trials. In addition to CSU, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California, Davis will recruit patients for the study.
Stephanie Foster, who is from Highlands Ranch, decided to see if her dog, Fraser, would qualify for the study. After a physical exam, bloodwork, ultrasound and X-rays, Fraser was cleared for enrollment in the trial in mid-May and was among the first dogs to receive a vaccination at CSU.
“One year after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my dog Maple, was diagnosed with lymphoma. She died nine months later,” Foster said. “I hate cancer and if there’s a chance that this vaccine will prevent cancer in Fraser and we can find a way to prevent cancer all together in dogs and maybe even people, that would be a dream come true.”
Owners must live within 150 miles of one of the participating trial sites.
To qualify, dogs must:
- Be between 6 and 10 years of age
- Weigh at least 12 pounds (5 kilograms)
- Have no history of previous cancer or autoimmune disease
- Have no significant illnesses that could result in a life span fewer than five years
- Not be on a current treatment with oral or injectable immunosuppressive medications
In addition, dogs must be among the following breeds: boxers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and a variety of mixed-breed dogs. See the complete list of breeds, 45 in total, on our website.
Companion dogs that meet the screening criteria will be randomly chosen to receive either the vaccine or a placebo version on a routine schedule. Study participants will live at home and visit the study site for semiannual check-ups for five years.
Patients that receive the placebo vaccine are expected to develop cancer at normal rates. The trial will determine whether the vaccine can delay or prevent cancer development in the vaccinated group.
Any owner whose dog develops cancer during the trial, on either the test or control arm, will be given a hospital credit that can be used for the diagnosis and treatment of their cancer.
Pet owners may visit the clinical trials website to begin the enrollment and screening process.
About the vaccine
For decades, conventional wisdom has suggested that a universal, preventive cancer vaccine would not be possible because all cancers are unique. However, Stephen Johnston, a professor and director of the Center for Innovations in Medicine, part of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, and his team recently discovered a way to identify commonalities among cancerous tumors. Using that information, they developed what they believe is a potential one-size-fits-all cancer prevention vaccine.
The new vaccine, called a multivalent frameshift peptide vaccine, was effective in mice and has been shown to be safe for use in companion animals.
The road to clinical trial
After developing and testing the vaccine in the lab, Johnston needed to identify a veterinarian to move the vaccine into a clinical trial in dogs. He chose Thamm, a trusted colleague who has collaborated with him for more than a decade.
“When Stephen brought up the idea of a universal cancer preventative vaccine, I was skeptical,” Thamm said. “However, the data he has shared has convinced me that the vaccine is worth testing.”
The project is supported by a multiyear grant of $6.4 million from the Open Philanthropy Project, which granted the award to Johnston in 2018.
If successful, this trial would provide strong support for the concept of using vaccines to prevent cancer in its earliest stages and could eventually justify human clinical trials.
“This is a critical study in the evaluation of this vaccine,” Thamm said. “While effectiveness has been shown in the lab, moving immediately to a very large, expensive and time-consuming human study is a leap that is hard to justify. Testing this approach in dogs will serve as the perfect bridge to human studies. Additionally, if it is successful, we will have a new tool for cancer prevention in our pets, potentially decades before it is available for humans.”