A New Anticancer Drug for Dogs and Potentially for Humans

Frances Hannan, Ph.D.
Chair BCSA Health Committee

A whole lot of prayers got answered recently!!! There is now a safe and effective therapy for sarcomas, including hemangiosarcoma (HSA). This is wonderful news for the 15,000 dogs that will be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcomas and bone sarcomas this year in the USA. These cancers are very aggressive and incurable, and typically spread before a diagnosis is even made.

The new therapy was developed by a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota led by Daniel Vallera and Jaime Modiano, and was published in February 2017 in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. The research was funded by grants from the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the National Canine Cancer Foundation among others.

Researchers treated 23 dogs with spontaneous splenic HSA, after removal of the spleen. Six month survival rates were increased from 40% in control dogs, to a whopping 70% in treated dogs. Furthermore, six dogs were still alive at the time of publication (more than 450 days after treatment). The drug was shown to kill both canine and human sarcoma cells in the laboratory, as well as several other cancer types. Given it’s safety and effectiveness in the canine model, clinical trials in humans, and for other canine cancers, are likely to begin soon.

What is this drug and how does it work? For some time now doctors and vets have been using drugs that target a particular protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). This protein is found on the surface of cells that are rapidly growing and dividing, especially cancer cells. The drugs that target the EGFR protein carry a toxin that will poison the cells that display that protein. Unfortunately, there are other cells with EGFR receptors that are not cancer cells, so those treatments often have severe side effects.

The UMN researchers decided to make a drug called eBAT that would target both EGFR and another protein, called urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR). This protein is expressed on the surface of blood vessels that supply the tumor cells with nutrients. The researchers hoped that this double targeting of the tumor AND it’s blood vessels would cause eBAT to be more selective, and only kill sarcoma cells. Since there were no adverse effects in the dogs studied, this hope seems to have been realized.

Dr. Modiano was quoted as saying “The ultimate goal for all of us is to create a world in which we no longer fear cancer”.

You can learn more about the drug and this study here:
https://www.vetmed.umn.edu/news/drug-developed-u-m-increases-survival-dogs-cancer-shows-potential-use-humans

If you would like a copy of the research article please email me at quamashbcs@yahoo.com.