Avivagen Explores Possible Breakthrough in Female Sterilization

A Canadian company and a professor are investigating a possible drug-based alternative to surgical spaying.


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At work in an Avivagen laboratory are, from left, Jamie Nickerson, Ph.D., director of product validation, and product validation associate Ye Zhang.

Avivagen Inc.

A Canadian animal health company wants to do for female dogs and cats what Ark Sciences Inc. is doing for male dogs.

Ark Sciences this year began shipping to veterinarians an FDA-approved nonsurgical sterilization drug, Zeuterin Injectable Solution, that is formulated to permanently cease canine sperm production.

Seizing an opportunity on the female side, Avivagen Inc. of Ottawa, Ontario, is partnering with University of Saskatchewan veterinarian Duncan Hockley, DVM, who invented what the company calls a drug-based alternative to surgical spaying.

The agreement puts Avivagen first in line for an exclusive license to a technology designed for the permanent sterilization of female mammals, starting with dogs and cats and potentially extending to livestock, wild animals and even humans.

The technology, which for now goes by the name “Sterilis Project,” is a long way from hitting the veterinary market. Avivagen hopes to finish proof-of-concept work by year’s end and at some point launch trial studies.

“We estimate that a nonresource-constrained project could attain registration in about five years, absent technical hurdles and delays in reviews,” said Avivagen’s CEO and president, Cameron Groome.

How the “Sterilis Project” drug would work on females is being kept quiet.

“We are being understandably coy about such matters while we are securing our patent protections,” Groome said. “Once patent applications publish, of course all will be laid bare.”

He revealed that the technology involves a “simple and one-time veterinarian-administered dosing.”

“The mechanisms of this drug-based application are different from the approaches that have been or are being tried,” Groome said. “It is not centered upon vaccination against sex hormones, long-term blockade of sex hormones or toxic tissue ablation.”

Avivagen forecasts a huge North American market for nonsurgical spaying. An estimated 83 percent of dogs and 91 percent of cats are spayed or neutered out of a combined U.S. population of nearly 180 million—half of whom are female.

The arrangement between Avivagen and Dr. Hockley calls for the company to pay all costs related to patents and animal studies. Avivagen’s option to license the technology globally expires July 8, 2015.

If Avivagen exercises its option, Hockley would receive company stock and potential royalty payments.

Hockley and Groome have known each other for 15 years.

“I believe this invention to be in the best of hands and [I] will be available to support the Avivagen team as they design and complete the necessary proof-of-concept studies,” Hockley said.

He directs the teaching hospital at Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine and developed the sterilization technology independent of his university work.

“If it proves out, I believe this drug-based approach is likely to transform animal care and veterinary practice,” Hockley said. “In the future, we could have far fewer unwanted pets, simple one-step programs for population control, and veterinarians would be able to use their surgical time to help sick animals as opposed to sterilizing healthy ones.”

Avivagen is known for a technology called Fully-Oxidized beta-Carotene (OxC-beta), a proprietary product based on carotenoid antioxidants and designed to support immune function in animals.

“Like our OxC-beta technology, we believe this permanent and nonsurgical sterilization technology is unique and potentially revolutionary,” Groome said. “If we exercise the option to acquire the license, we are hopeful that it will help animals and their caregivers, while also possibly becoming the largest new veterinary product in a long time.”

Avivagen isn’t pursuing the Michelson Prize, a $25 million award that Found Animals Foundation has promised to the first inventor of a low-cost, permanent, nonsurgical sterilant that works on both male and female cats and dogs.

“There are many differences between what constitutes fertility and sterility for males and females, and we believe it will be very difficult or impossible for any single product to safely and effectively sterilize both sexes due to these unique subtleties,” Groome said. “As witness to that challenge, we note that the Michelson Prize remains unclaimed and that spaying and neutering surgeries continue to be the mainstays of animal population control.”

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