Anyone with a pet knows how much our ‘companion animal’ means to us, so a cancer diagnosis in the family dog or cat can be just as devastating as for humans. Now a Fort Collins-based firm has developed a new medication that offers hope for pets stricken with lymphoma.
VetDC was launched in 2010 as an animal-health oriented company specializing in cancer treatments for dogs and cats. “Our model is to find innovative drugs from human (focused) bio-pharmaceutical companies that haven’t made it to market for different reasons,” said Steven Roy, VetDC president and CEO. “Then we leverage the animal data that those companies have already generated in the R&D process of their discovery programs.” And much of that animal data is now coming from canine research. “People are increasingly realizing that dogs are excellent models for serious diseases such as cancer,” said Roy. “Traditionally, companies would justify their programs based on mouse or rat models, but when it comes to what will happen in humans, rodents can be poor predictors.”
Now the company’s efforts are paying off. VetDC recently announced the release of a new drug for the treatment of canine lymphoma, the most common form of cancer in dogs. According to Roy, TANOVEA-CA1 is the first-ever dog lymphoma treatment conditionally approved by the FDA and the first of its kind on the market.steven-royuse_1
Roy said he believes clients are ready and waiting. “There are a number of generic ‘human’ chemotherapy drugs being used (on pets) that have never been approved for dogs and cats, so there’s a market that’s already been established organically,” he said. “One of the things about lymphoma is that, if left untreated, it will progress in dogs extremely rapidly – the typical life span is only one to two months – so there is a motivated population looking to extend life for their dogs.”
Having spent more than 13 years in business development and marketing at Amgen, a large bio-pharmaceutical company headquartered in California, Roy saw an opportunity to move into a new market after networking with contacts at Colorado State University. “I had no real plans to get into animal health, but this really caught my attention as a way to leverage my cancer interest and experience in human pharma and apply it to something totally different. Given that CSU’s Flint Animal Cancer Center is one of the top animal cancer centers in the world today, it was a natural fit for us to focus on cancer.”
That’s where CSU Ventures came in. As the tech transfer office for Colorado State University, it works to bring new technologies discovered at CSU into the marketplace, usually by filing patents and then licensing them to other companies. Dr. Terry Opgenorth, vice president of CSU Ventures, picks up the story: “I was doing work around the CSU vet school and realized that quite a number of bio-technology companies were coming here to do ‘proof-of-concept’ work in companion animals on drugs or devices they thought might have applications in human disease.” he explained.
In talking with the company researchers, Opgenorth said he asked whether they had considered developing those technologies for veterinary applications. While most thought it was a good idea, none followed through.terry-opgenorthuse “So we decided then that what we needed to do was start a company that could go back to those firms and say ‘here’s an opportunity for your technology to be developed in the veterinary space, and VetDC will be that development company,’” Opgenorth said.
Sold to veterinarians, TANOVEA-CA1 is administered intravenously every three weeks, for up to five doses. “An advantage we have with our drug is that pet owners only have to come in five times,” said Roy. “With some of the conventional chemotherapy (treatments) it can be anywhere from 12 to 16 visits, so we think there’s a tremendous advantage in getting a good response with much fewer visits, which is a lot less burdensome on the pet owner…and it’s less stressful for the dog. The fewer visits, the better.”
And the more options, the better. “One of the challenges of pet medicine is that euthanasia is often offered up very quickly,” Roy noted. “In the old days it was ‘there’s nothing we can do, your dog has cancer’ where now they can say ‘look, we’ve got a whole range of tools that we can use to keep your dog alive.’ Cancer is a fatal disease, unfortunately, but the more treatments we have the more chances that your dog is going to live much longer.”
Researchers at VetDC are currently developing drugs meant to target other types of cancers in dogs and also plan to explore feline applications. “Lymphoma is also the most common cancer in cats and there’s nothing to treat them today, so we’re excited about moving into new market opportunities over time,” Roy said.
“We believe we’re on the cusp of huge untapped opportunity with clear, unmet need. While this is our first entry into the marketplace, we’re looking to build the oncology market to benefit dogs and cats for years to come.”