Scientists pinpoint contributions pets can make to human medicine

Last June, the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) hosted a two-day workshop in Washington, DC, aimed at promoting clinical research in dogs that can be translated to finding new cures for people. Now the IOM is sharing insights that came from the more than 20 veterinarians and scientists who attended the event.

The workshop provided a framework for defining and exploring deficiencies in the field of comparative oncology, according to a paper published in a recent edition of Science Translational Medicine. The goal of comparative oncology research is to include in clinical trials pet dogs who have developed tumors that are similar to cancers in people, including breast cancer, osteosarcoma and lymphoma. The participants in the workshop brainstormed methods for boosting the role of pet dogs in cancer clinical trials.

One of the questions the workshop attendees pondered is whether there is sufficient understanding of the utility of comparative oncology in drug development. Everyone agreed that such studies must offer benefits for both the human and animal health community. "Although it is not the primary intent of comparative oncology research to lead to approval of a veterinary product, the data gained can effectively lead to such an outcome," the authors note.

The workshop also included a discussion about whether the needs of companion animals and their owners are being adequately met in comparative oncology trials. Participants agreed that in addition to ensuring the welfare of the animals, clinical trial investigators should also provide resources to pet owners, such as counseling and unbiased support during the decision-making process. They also agreed that there should be a central registry that lists all the available clinical trials for pets.

Interest in comparative oncology is increasing among pharmaceutical companies. Several drug companies were represented at the IOM workshop, including Gilead ($GILD), AstraZeneca ($AZN) and MEI Pharma ($MEIP). Academic scientists are also turning to pet dogs for insights into therapies they're developing for people. Yale University and Colorado State University are among the schools that have recently launched comparative oncology initiatives.

- here's the Science Translational Medicine paper