NCI teams up with 20 vet schools to test transplant drug in bone cancer

Great Dane
Large breed dogs are particularly prone to osteosarcoma--Courtesy of Sheila Sund CC BY 2.0

The National Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (COTC) has launched a study designed to test whether the commonly used organ-transplant medication rapamycin might also be effective in shrinking osteosarcoma tumors in dogs. The results may lead to a new therapeutic option for both dogs and people--particularly children, who develop osteosarcoma at a much higher rate than adults do.

Rapamycin is commonly used as an immunosuppressant in patients undergoing kidney transplants. But the drug has long been of interest to oncology researchers, because it inhibits a protein called mTOR, which tells cells to grow and divide. This protein often becomes mutated in cancer, leading to the uncontrolled growth of tumors. The NCI study will examine whether rapamycin can prevent or delay osteosarcoma metastases, according to a press release from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), which is one of the participants.

Dogs develop osteosarcoma at 10 times the rate of humans, according to OVC, and the disease is particularly common in large breeds such as Rottweilers and Great Danes. About 160 dogs being treated at up to 20 veterinary schools will be recruited for the trial, which is expected to last 8 to 12 months, OVC says. The researchers will compare the standard of care--amputation and chemotherapy--with that regimen plus rapamycin.

“Since osteosarcoma looks and acts so similar in people and dogs--aggressive, highly metastatic disease--if we find better ways to treat dogs, it may help treat people as well,” says Paul Woods, a veterinary cancer specialist at OVC, in the release.

The COTC has supported several cancer trials in dogs since its founding in 2003. It is among many institutions promoting the concept of rapidly translating advances that are made in veterinary medicine to human health care. Because dogs are vulnerable to many of the same cancers that affect humans--not just osteosarcoma, but also melanoma, breast cancer, lymphoma and many more--they are considered to be valuable partners in comparative oncology.

Several startups are pursuing a variety of approaches to treating cancer in pets, including Texas-based Rapamycin Holdings, which raised $2.5 million last year to get its program involving that drug off the ground. And Kansas-based TVAX has raised $12 million to develop a personalized vaccine for dogs with osteosarcoma.

- here's the release

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TVAX pours $2M funding round into canine osteosarcoma drug
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Genes in canine bone tumors predict drug response: Report

Image courtesy of Sheila Sund CC BY 2.0