Scientists modify cancer immunotherapy for use in dogs

Human patients have benefited from cancer immunotherapy for around 20 years, but it is just now being adapted for veterinary use.

A team of researchers from Messerli Research Institute of the Vemeduni Vienna, the Medical University of Vienna, and the University of Vienna reported in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics that they have developed the first antibodies capable of targeting canine cancer.

According to the scientists, cancer immunotherapy has long been used in human medicine because of its effective approach leveraging antibodies that bind to cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth. The antibodies trigger the death of cancer cells and stimulate the patient's immune system to destroy targeted tumors.

In order to modify cancer immunotherapy for dogs, the researchers had to "trim" or "caninize" the antibody to specifically bind with receptors on dogs' cancer cells. This was relatively simple due to the fact that a receptor commonly found on human tumor cells - EGFR - is almost 100 percent identical to the corresponding receptor on dogs, researchers reported.

After trimming the antibody to target canine cancer cells, researchers "expect dogs to tolerate these anti-cancer antibodies well," said Erika Jensen-Jarolim, MD, chair for comparative medicine at the interdisciplinary Messerli Research Institute, in a Bioscience Technology article. 

The scientists pointed to an additional benefit of using cancer immunotherapy on dogs, which is the ability to pair antibodies with radioactive isotopes to enable the visual detection of tumors and metastases.

Though they still have more to learn about this potential cancer treatment, researchers said it so far appears to be safe and effective for use in dogs.

"In summary, this newly generated 'caninized' anti-EGFR antibody seems to be highly specific as well as effective in targeting EGFR-overexpressing canine tumor cells. Its caninization prevents adverse reactions, such as anaphylaxis or serum sickness in treated dogs, making this antibody a safe research lead compound for the first passive immunotherapy approaches in canine patients with cancer," researchers wrote in their published study.

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