Huge Grant Awarded for Canine Osteosarcoma Vaccine Clinical Trial

April 19, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

The University of Pennsylvania has just been awarded one of the largest single grants ever given by Morris Animal Foundation to conduct a clinical trial for a new canine osteosarcoma vaccine.

The traditional treatments for canine osteosarcoma are not effective at eliminating all tumor cells. “Despite standard of care, the majority of dogs still die from metastatic disease,” Nicola Mason, BVetMed, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and pathobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said.

But a research team from PennVet thinks they have the answer: a novel immunotherapy treatment that combines a molecule expressed by cancer cells with a modified-live form of Listeria monocytogenes.

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“This immunotherapeutic approach is very promising as it induces a patient’s own immune system to combat cancer cells, wherever they may be, from within,” said Dr. Mason, who is also the principal investigator of clinical trials investigating the new vaccine.

In the pilot study, researchers evaluated 18 dogs with primary tumor removal and gave them 4 doses of carboplatin chemotherapy followed by the new canine osteosarcoma vaccine every 3 weeks for 3 doses. The median survival rate in dogs given the vaccine was 956 days compared with 423 days in a historical control group.

Aratana was granted a conditional license by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) based on the efficacy data from the 18-dog study. After garnering the conditional license, Aratana—which licensed the vaccine exclusively from Advaxis, Inc.—announced that the osteosarcoma vaccine will undergo an extended field study as part of the USDA’s requirement to progress from a conditional license to a full license. Approximately 24 veterinary oncology practice groups across the United States will be able to purchase the vaccine if they participate in the study.

Separately, Morris Animal Foundation awarded a research team a $775,000 grant toward testing a different formulation of the conditionally licensed vaccine. The Morris Animal Foundation grant is earmarked specifically for a controlled clinical trial performed through the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium at the National Institutes of Health.

“For the last 50 years, Morris Animal Foundation has been funding cancer studies, and this is one of the largest single grants we have ever awarded,” Kelly Diehl, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM), senior scientific programs and communications adviser at Morris Animal Foundation, said. “The results of the pilot study were so compelling that we knew we had to support this research team and their progression to a clinical trial.”

In the Morris Animal Foundation-funded clinical trial, the vaccine will be evaluated in 80 dogs at 11 university-based veterinary centers across the United States. One group of dogs will receive the immunotherapy treatment and one group will receive standard of care, and then researchers will compare immune responses as well as progression-free and overall survival in both groups.

The clinical trial will also evaluate the vaccine’s ability to slow metastatic disease by looking at how enrolled dogs that develop metastatic disease prior to their scheduled receipt of the immunotherapy react to treatment.

“This could be an incredible breakthrough in the fight against osteosarcoma,” Dr. Diehl said, “a highly aggressive and deadly cancer.”