ASU awarded $6.4M grant to test preventive canine cancer vaccine

The multi-year grant will support the largest-ever interventional canine clinical trial

Arizona State University (ASU) professor Stephen Albert Johnson, Ph.D., has received a $6.4 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to support a clinical trial of a vaccine to prevent canine cancer.

The trial will involve approximately 800 middle-aged, healthy pet dogs and will test the effects of a multivalent frameshift peptide (FSP) vaccine developed at ASU that has shown promise in mouse studies. Scientists think the vaccine has potential for human use, too.

“Our goal has always been that if this is possible, we should at least try it,” said Johnston, director of the Biodesign Center for Innovations in Medicine and CEO of Calviri Inc., a cancer vaccine company. “Open Philanthropy was the only organization that responded to support our high-risk project, the biggest cancer intervention trial in dogs ever.”

Johnston and his team developed the new FSP vaccine over the past 10 years. The vaccine, already tested for efficacy in mice, is shown to be safe in dogs, according to Johnston’s research.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in pet dogs and their cancers are very similar to their human counterparts. Some breeds have a very high cancer rate, as much as 40 percent. The canine immune system responds to tumors and vaccines very similar to the human immune system.  But dog years and the course of tumor development are much shorter compared to the average human lifespan. Johnston believes he and his team can evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine in five years or less, versus the 15 to 20 years it would take in a human trial. The vaccine they are testing in dogs will have a composition very similar to the one they would test in humans.

The trial will be conducted at the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University. Enrolled dogs will live at home and receive biannual exams with a complete clinical pathology workup. Dogs will be randomly chosen to receive either the vaccine or a mock version. Any owner whose dog develops cancer during the trial, on either the test or control arm, will be given a credit toward medical expenses.

If successful, the trial would provide support for possibly employing FSP vaccines to prevent human cancer in its earliest stages, possibly leading to a canine cancer vaccine, and could eventually justify human clinical trials for both treatment and prevention.

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