Genes and cancer: Hot trend in veterinary product development

2018-10-13
Kristi Reimer Fender, News Channel Director

KC Animal Health Corridor event showcases innovative technology that may eventually help veterinarians diagnose and treat malignancies of all types.

Catalin--stock.adobe.comWhile the 2018 Investment Forum hosted recently by the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor was not specifically designed to focus on cancer in animals, many of the products presented did just that, and most of them had a genetic component to their technology. The forum, which allows animal health manufacturers to pitch their emerging products in a Shark Tank-like format, helps startup companies attain investment funding, licensing partnerships and more to help bring their products to market. Here are some of the coolest products we at dvm360 think veterinarians will be interested in.

Canine melanoma vaccine

Other emerging veterinary products

Of course, many of the developing technologies pitched at the Investment Forum were targeting diseases other than cancer. Here are the highlights.

An antimicrobial assist. “The Achilles' heel of pathogenic microbes is their need for iron,” says Bill Cheliak, business development chief of Chelation Partners. His company's product is designed to enhance or restore antibiotic efficacy in an era of drug resistance by exploiting pathogens' essential need for iron. The drug is a polymer that targets iron like a supermagnet, Cheliak says, and it works on both fungi and bacteria. The initial application for dogs will be a topical product for pyoderma, wounds and ocular problems. The product has not been shown to interfere with iron in the body, Cheliak says.

New heartworm preventive.Chalante is a biotech company developing new parasiticides for pets and livestock, says Simon Asplund, general manager. It has developed a chewable monthly heartworm product for dogs with the goal of overcoming resistance to established products. The active ingredient is a “nature-inspired molecule” that relies on a new mode of action-something the heartworm-prevention world has not seen in 30 years, Asplund says.

Topical drug delivery. “Who wants to pill a cat?” asks Illustris Pharmaceuticals CEO Mark Prygocki. The answer? No one ever. So Illustris has harnessed a novel drug delivery system that allows oral or injectable drugs to be delivered topically. How does this work? The product-which can be applied via a gel, ointment, spray, powder or patch-temporarily relaxes or “distracts” anchors binding dermal cells together without damaging the cells or cell junctions, allowing large drug molecules to pass in between. In other words, it instructs cells to temporarily move away from each other and become “leaky,” Prygocki says. Because this delivery leads to higher drug tissue concentrations than are seen with other modalities, clinicians can reduce the amount of drug needed to get the same clinical effect-making it cost-effective and safer, Prygocki says. What's more, it works better on hair follicles, so no shaving is required for application.

Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy is “the hottest field in human health today,” says MBF Therapeutics CEO Tom Tillett. This form of immunotherapy, which can target both cancer and infectious diseases, alters an invading cell's genetics via a vaccine delivery system. MBFT is working to bring a canine melanoma vaccine to market that would attack the tumor and its microenvironment, using checkpoint inhibitors to prevent the tumor from suppressing the host's immune system.

Feline GI lymphoma test

In cats, the signs of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastrointestinal (GI) lymphoma are almost identical, says Andrew Barnell, CEO of Geneoscopy. But for lymphoma to be diagnosed, a cat has to undergo biopsy and sedation at a cost that many veterinary clients are unable or unwilling to pay. Many cat owners play the odds that their pet has IBD, Barnell says, but the odds are not great-45 percent of cats with this set of clinical signs (more than half a million present per year) actually have GI lymphoma. And while the condition is treatable if diagnosed early, the mortality rate for more advanced disease is high.

To address this dilemma, Geneoscopy has developed a test to diagnose GI lymphoma in cats that isolates a T-cell RNA biomarker in a stool sample. The test is non-invasive and much more affordable than the current protocol, meaning many more cats are likely to receive appropriate veterinary care.

Tumor-derived cancer vaccine

Torigen Pharmaceuticals, another company exploring immunotherapeutics for cancer, has developed VetiVax, a treatment that uses a portion of a veterinary patient's own tumor to create series of vaccines. After a portion of the tumor is surgically excised at the veterinary clinic, the tissue is processed at VetiVax laboratories to create a multidose treatment administered subcutaneously once per week for three weeks. The deactivated tumor cells activate TH1 immunity in the patient, allowing release of the “killer cells” that attack the tumor, says Torigen CEO Ashley Kalinauskas. In its testing, VetiVax has treated more than 300 animals with different types of cancer in veterinary clinics across the U.S., with 70 percent of those patients exceeding their prognosis by an average of 2.14 times, Kalinauskas says.

Tumor gene profiling

Innogenics has developed a genomic test for cancer in dogs designed to optimize treatment, says Barbara Davis, president and CEO of the company. How it works: The veterinarian sends an already biopsied tumor to Innogenics; Innogenics performs a two-day assay of genes that are turned on and off in that tumor; Innogenics provides a detailed personalized genomic report to the veterinarian with recommended therapies. In human oncology, gene expression profiling of tumors is becoming the standard of care, Davis says.

While these companies are in various stages of commercialization-meaning it may be months to years before their cancer-related products are available to practitioners-veterinarians can get excited that smart people are out there in laboratories dreaming up new ways to help pets overcome this deadly disease.