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Experts Rally behind Comparative Oncology to Solve Cancers Shared by Kids and Dogs
[June 16, 2017]

Experts Rally behind Comparative Oncology to Solve Cancers Shared by Kids and Dogs


Dogs and kids develop many of the same cancers but efforts to find cures have not been widely coordinated…yet. Top cancer researchers and leaders in pediatric and veterinary medicine gathered for the first ever Paws for a Cure Summit, hosted by Canines-N-Kids Foundation-to discuss barriers and find solutions for enhancing collaborative efforts aimed at finding cures for cancers shared by kids and dogs.

"Dogs and kids need each other. Both develop a number of similar or even identical cancers, but the worlds of pet and pediatric cancer research largely function separately. We are working to change this so that veterinary and pediatric researchers can work together to develop better medicines and find more cures," explained Ulrike Szalay, founder and executive director of Canines-N-Kids Foundation, a nonprofit committed to promoting research that integrates efforts for the benefit of both kids and dogs with cancer.

Held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, this first-of-its-kind Summit brought together top leaders and researchers in veterinary and pediatric oncology, immunology, translational science, industry and cancer advocacy to develop a roadmap for accelerating innovation in pediatric cancer treatment in ways that might also help man's best friend. Consensus opinions suggest that comparative oncology, leveraging the study of similar cancers that occur in both animals and people through clinical trials recruiting dogs affected by cancer, offers tremendous opportunity to find treatments that will benefit both dog and human patient groups.

Not only is cancer the leading cause of disease-related childhood death in the US-it also claims the lives of 47 percent of dogs. Kids and dogs develop similar kinds of cancers, including bone cancer, brain and central nervous system cancers (like glioblastoma), and lymph and blood cancers (including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and certain types of leukemia). Dogs and kids share genes, too: more than 84 percent of canine DNA has human counterparts. This makes them susceptible to the same diseases, according to the Genomics Institute, and makes the cancers that they share eerily similar on a clinical, genetic, and biologic level. Treatments that work in kids work in dogs, and vice-versa.

The challenges inherent in designing and implementing pediatric oncology clinical trials for limited number of children with cancer, coupled with scant resources for conducting research on pediatric cancers, makes finding cures difficult for the roughly 16,000 children diagnosed in the United States each year. Only three new medications have been approved for the treatment of pediatric cancer in the last 30 years. Only 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute's budget goes to kids' cancer and virtually no pharmaceutical funding goes to pediatric cancer research. For dogs diagnosed with cancer, the outlook is no better.

Speaker Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, urged attendees to work together to fulfill the promise of comparative oncology for the benefit of kids and our four legged companions, and to fix regulatory and other hurdles standing in the way, exclaiming: "I'm convinced. You're convinced. It can be done. It has to be done. We need to understand, and we can do it!"


During the Summit, attendees participated in cross-disciplinary working groups with both animal and human researchers and experts. The groups identified key challenges and opportunities to accelerating progress, including:

  • Reducing gaps in the regulatory framework to ease the inclusion of canine clinical trials in the drug development process in ways that benefit canine and human cancer patients
  • Providing incentives for formal training in clinical sciences targeting veterinary trainees to expand the pool of expert veterinary oncologists
  • Improving the resolution of maps that facilitate comparison of canine and human genomes and defining a larger set of genomic cancer markers through sequencing and comparing dog tumors with human tumors
  • Supporting research that generates improved understanding of canine immunology across breeds to better predict how dogs and kids might respond similarly or differently to cutting-edge cancer therapies
  • Promoting an improved understanding and acceptance of comparative oncology among the pet owners and pediatric cancer communities
  • Improving coordination between collaborative groups that organize clinical trials in pets and in people

As next steps, the recently established Canines-N-Kids Foundation agreed to continue building momentum by:

  • Developing platforms to enhance communication and share information among both pet and human medical worlds
  • Improving the basic research "toolbox" for veterinary cancer researchers, providing proteins, antibodies, assays, and other tools for canine research similar to those used by their human oncology counterparts
  • Creating and publishing a compelling business case for canine clinical trials in pharmaceutical drug development using real-life examples of integrated drug development
  • Prioritizing Canines-N-Kids grants-making to ensure that critical, collaborative research projects get funded
  • Developing and supporting cross-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder working groups to addressing barriers to effective, efficient, productive collaboration between veterinary and pediatric communities

The integration of drug development in pediatric and pet populations has great potential to accelerate the discovery of novel, more effective, less toxic treatments for the cancers that plague children and dogs. "I left believing there is a better chance for my human osteosarcoma patients. When I got home, I hugged my dog extra as well," quipped Damon Reed, leader of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation's pediatric phase I consortium, the Sunshine Project.

The Summit received generous support from the Petco Foundation; the Blue Buffalo Foundation; the V Foundation for Cancer Research; and the Quad W Foundation.


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