Oncology Clinical Trials Involve General Practitioners, Veterinary Medical Schools

General practitioners and veterinary hospitals will have the opportunity to participate in the National Cancer Institute’s first clinic trial for cancer in dogs this summer. The Comparative Oncology Program, which was created in November 2003, will start its first clinical trial Aug. 15. Eight U.S. hospitals have agreed to participate in the program, which will monitor the results of a new drug on several cancers, said Chand Khanna, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, head of the Comparative Oncology Program. The name of the drug could not be released at press time, though it will purportedly prevent blood-cell formation, which will block a cancer’s ability to spread, Khanna explained. 

Approximately 6 million dogs and cats are diagnosed with cancer annually in the United States, Khanna said. And while specific cancers are more prevalent within the last few years, such as lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma, Khanna attributes the increase in cancers to better testing and client education.

“People are pursuing diagnostic tests, and veterinarians are increasingly aware that cancer is no longer the end of the road,” Khanna said. “They are presenting their clients with options. Dogs tolerate chemotherapy and, in some cases, cancer is being treated as a chronic disease.”

Osteosarcoma, lymphoma, prostate and breast cancers – which have the same intercellular genetic changes in dogs and humans – will be studied first. By using the canine genome map, veterinary oncology researchers will be able to study how cancers develop and why they vanish, just like human doctors have done with the human genome, Khanna said.

Dogs have been used in cancer research for at least 30 years, but the creation of the Comparative Oncology Program signifies an industry-wide “recognition of the value that can be provided” to both human and veterinary patients when veterinary oncology is included in the research equation, Khanna said. “The perspective we bring as veterinarians is unique and important.”

Another prominent example of the growing recognition for veterinary oncology was the announcement that Stephen Withrow, DVM, DACVS, chief of the Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University received the Bonfils-Stanton award in June. Withrow’s cancer treatments for animals are said to show promise for the treatment of human breast cancer and bone tumors in children.

“The fact that dogs develop cancer spontaneously is a very distinct advantage [for research purposes],” in comparison to using rats that are injected with cancers, Khanna said. “Naturally occurring cancers that develop in dogs more closely mimic those found in humans.”

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