Researchers make breakthrough in feline infectious peritonitis trial


The study, funded by Morris Animal Foundation, saw patients go into remission after antiviral treatment.

Smokey, one of the cats that participated in the study. | Photo courtesy of Dr. Yunjeong Kim, Kansas State University

Cats with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) went into remission from the deadly disease after being treated with a novel antiviral drug in a clinical trial, according to a release from Morris Animal Foundation, which funded the study. Researchers from Kansas State University and the University of California, Davis, published their results in September 2017 in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

Morris Animal Foundation launched its FIP initiative in 2015, putting more than $1 million toward improving diagnostics and treatments for the disease and funding studies with the potential to develop cures. One of these studies, which launched in March 2016 by Yunjeong Kim, DVM, PhD, DACVM, of K-State, and Niels Pedersen, DVM, PhD, of UC Davis, was a small trial to investigate whether a novel antiviral drug could cure or extend the lifespan and quality of life for cats with FIP, the release states.

“This research is the first attempt to use modern antiviral strategies to cure a fatal, systemic viral disease of any veterinary species,” says Dr. Pedersen in the release. “Our task was to identify the best candidates for antiviral treatment and the best dose and duration of treatment. Saving or improving the lives of even a few cats is a huge win for FIP research.”

Peanut, another cat in the study. | Photo courtesy of Dr. Yunjeong Kim, Kansas State University

The trial was conducted with 20 client-owned cats that presented with various forms and stages of FIP, which were then treated with the antiviral drug. At the time of publication, seven cats were still in disease remission, which is a positive step for a disease that has historically been untreatable.

“We found that most of the cats, except for those with neurological disease, can be put into clinical remission quickly with antiviral treatment, but achieving long-term remission is challenging with chronic cases. These findings give us more insight into FIP pathogenesis and also underscores the importance of early diagnosis and early treatment,” says Dr. Kim in the release.

In the study, the best response to long-term treatment was seen in kittens younger than 16 to 18 weeks of age that had a particular form of FIP and that were at certain stages of the disease's progression. Cats with neurological disease associated with FIP did not respond well to the drug and didn't achieve disease remission.

“Dr. Kim and I have been collaborating for over two years on an antiviral drug that proved highly active against the FIP virus in tissue culture and in a mouse model. The positive results of these studies convinced us to test the drug against naturally occurring FIP in cats,” says Dr. Pedersen.

The antiviral drug still needs to be commercialized before it will be available for veterinarians to use, a process which could take several years.

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