Nexvet and Zenoaq prep ‘100% dog’ cancer immunotherapy

Elderly dog

Last July, Dublin-based animal drug developer Nexvet ($NVET) struck up a research partnership with Zenoaq, a Japanese animal health company, to develop monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) with the potential to treat diseases in companion animals. Now that partnership is bearing fruit, the companies announced on May 2.

The collaboration has produced “cananized,” or 100% dog mAbs that can bind to programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1), a leading oncology target, Nexvet said in a press release. The companies are now working to further investigate the safety of the molecules and their ability to inhibit PD-1. From there, they will work together to determine the most suitable drug candidates for further development, sharing the research costs, according to the release. Zenoaq will hold rights to any resulting products in Asia and Europe, while Nexvet will retain the rest of the world.

PD-1 has been a popular immunotherapy target for treating cancer in people in recent years. It is known as a “checkpoint” protein because it takes up residence on cells in the immune system known as T cells and prevents them from attacking and eliminating cancer. Checkpoint inhibitors are now widely used to treat melanoma and lung cancer in people and are under investigation in many other tumor types.

Mark Heffernan, chief executive officer of Nexvet, hopes the Zenoaq partnership will yield similar treatments for pets. “Cancer leads to significant morbidity and mortality in pet dogs, and the incidence of cancer will only increase as dogs live longer,” Heffernan said in the release. “Given the wealth of data generated in humans supporting the attractive safety profile and efficacy of PD-1 inhibitors against a variety of tumor types, we are excited to be advancing an anti-PD-1 antibody program for dogs with Zenoaq.”

In addition to investing in R&D projects such as the Zenoaq alliance, Nexvet has been working hard to transition to a commercial company. Investors are keeping a close eye on its two lead compounds, NV-01 (ranevetmab) and NV-02, to treat osteoarthritis pain in dogs and cats respectively. After some initial questions about NV-01’s performance in a pivotal clinical trial, Nexvet announced late last year that the trial met all its endpoints and was on track to be submitted for approval in the U.S. and Europe.

Still, the heavy research focus is taking a toll on Nexvet’s bottom line. In its second fiscal quarter ending in December, the company’s net loss jumped 138% year-over-year to $5.7 million.

- here’s the release

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