Cancer immunotherapy tried in pet dogs moves to human trials

Australia's Regeneus has won regulatory approval to test a cancer therapy that it first pioneered for use in dogs with cancer. It's a personalized cancer vaccine created from each patient's tumor cells, which are combined with a medicine that's designed to activate the immune system.

When the vaccine was tried in dogs from the Sydney area, the vast majority of patients outlived the expected survival time for their disease, according to a press release from the company. "We are hopeful that the success we have seen with the vaccine in treating a wide variety of cancers in dogs translates to humans," said Regeneus CEO John Martin in the release.

The company is planning a trial in 21 people who have various types of advanced cancers. The tumors will be removed surgically. Then any patient who has exhausted all available treatment regimens will have the personalized vaccine made and administered at staged intervals, the company says. The goal is to prove safety and a stabilization of the disease.

Regeneus, which is traded on the Australian Securities Exchange, is joining a wave of enthusiasm for cancer immunotherapy. Several approaches to stimulating the immune system to destroy tumors are under development, including chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapies, which involve removing immune-boosting T-cells from patients and genetically engineering them to recognize and kill cancer cells. A host of cancer-killing vaccines and virus-based drugs are generating excitement among investors, physicians, and patients.

Lately the animal health industry has embraced immunotherapy, too. Advaxis ($ADXS), for example, has teamed up with Aratana Therapeutics ($PETX) to develop an immune-boosting drug, ADXS-HER2, for dogs with osteosarcoma. In a trial in dogs treated at the University of Pennsylvania, 50% of patients showed clear immune responses and some were cured.

Regeneus' personalized vaccine is currently being tested in the U.S. in dogs with osteosarcoma and in Australia in dogs with hemangiosarcoma. The company is also exploring trials in canine melanoma and lymphoma, according to its website.

- here's the press release