Cancer Fighting Vaccine Made with Dog’s Own Tumor Cells
When our first dog, Kinako, joined our family, she worked her magic to bring harmony and love to a household with four difficult teenagers. She became the center of our attention and love. But sadly, she was diagnosed with fibrosarcoma--a form of malignant cancer--on the side of her face when she was eight years old.
Surgery and radiation therapy bought her extra time. She loved going in for her radiation therapy, because (we found out later) she could always convince one of the technicians to share her French fries with her. But sadly, the cancer came back, and we lost her eighteen months after her diagnosis.
Kinako, photo by Mari Maeda
Is it possible to find a treatment that’s better than today’s cancer therapies?
Are there new treatments that are safe and offer the possibility of long-term survival?
There is a consensus in the veterinary research community that cancer immunotherapy can offer such a possibility. One such treatment has been developed by a small company called Torigen Pharmaceutical.
*A new personalized immunotherapy with the potential to slow or stop cancerous growth is available for pet dogs.
*The vaccine made from the animals’ own cancer tissue stimulates the immune system to attack tumor cells.
*This new immunotherapy treatment is safe, is affordable, and may become a viable alternative to chemotherapy for treating dogs with different forms of cancer.
Torigen Pharmaceutical is a small Farmington, Connecticut-based company, which has developed a new cancer-fighting vaccine for pet dogs. I first met their CEO, Ashley Kalinauskas, two years ago at the Veterinary Cancer Society (VCS) conference in Anchorage, Alaska.
After losing our third dog to cancer, I wanted to learn all I could about the research taking place to create better treatments for dogs with cancer, and VCS was the first conference I decided to attend. Ashley and her team impressed me with their enthusiasm for the new immunotherapy treatment that they were developing. Their experimental therapy uses a autologous vaccine to stimulate the dog’s immune system. “Autologous” means cells or tissue obtained from the “self.” In other words, the vaccine is produced using the dog’s own cancer cells. The vaccine helps to mobilize the immune system against specific tumor-associated antigens found on the outside surface of tumor cells.
Safe, efficacious, and affordable treatments for dogs with cancer are desperately needed as a growing number of dogs are diagnosed with cancer. Torigen’s autologous cancer vaccine brings new hope to many pet parents.
So far, the Torigen team has treated over 600 pet dogs with their experimental therapy. Their treatment has been described as being more gentle than chemotherapy because it has little to no side effects. It is also less expensive than many multi-agent chemotherapy treatments. I recently learned that their vaccine is available to canine and feline patients throughout the United States, through local veterinary clinics.
I reached out to the Ashley to find out more about their vaccine development and their plans. I want to share here what I learned from our conversation, as well as from their scientific publications, press releases, and website .
Is this vaccine treatment available for dogs with cancer today?
Yes, it is still an experimental treatment, but it is available from Torigen through veterinary clinics throughout the United States.
Which cancer types can the vaccine treat?
The cancer vaccine is being evaluated with canine patients diagnosed with the following:
-Anal Sac Adenocarcinoma
-Mast Cell Tumors
-Soft Tissue Sarcoma
-Carcinoma (including basal cell, hepatocellular, nasal, mammary, squamous cell, and transitional cell)
For many of these cancer types, chemotherapy is not effective. If your dog has another type of cancer, you are encouraged to contact the the Torigen team to learn more about their research.
What is the treatment process?
First of all, your dog must have a confirmed diagnosis of cancer. The tumor must be surgically excised (1-5 cubic centimeters) and this must include the margin of the tumor and other surrounding tissues. This tumor is then sent to Torigen by your veterinarian in a collection kit. Within a week, Torigen sends the manufactured vaccine to the veterinarian. Once receiving the vaccine, your veterinarian will administer the vaccine to your pup once a week for three weeks.
Is surgery necessary to remove the tumors before the vaccine treatment?
Surgery is required. Samples of tumor tissue are necessary and must be sent to Torigen lab. Not only does this give the research lab the material they need to create a vaccine, it also reduces the burden on your pup’s immune system so that they can fight the cancer cells more effectively.
Does my pup need chemotherapy together with the vaccine?
Not necessarily. However, depending on the tumor type and grade, chemo may be recommended by your veterinary oncologist. The vaccine could be given after chemo treatment or concurrently.
If a pup has already undergone chemo treatment, can they still receive the vaccine?
Yes. If another surgery is planned to remove an additional tumor(s), this vaccine can be considered. The vaccine can also be completed concurrently with chemotherapy. The Torigen team recommends that chemo and immunotherapy are provided at least 24 hours apart.
Can the vaccine help a dog who is experiencing metastasis (cancer that has spread to other areas of the body)?
The vaccine may slow and at times reverse the cancer growth for some dogs, but more studies are needed at this time to prove a reduction in metastatic disease. The Torigen team has published preclinical mouse-model research highlighting the ability for this vaccine to reduce the rate of metastasis.
How many dogs have been treated with this cancer vaccine so far?
Over 600 canine patients and nearly 100 feline patients have been treated with the Torigen vaccine..
What is known about the side effects?
According to Torigen’s study, 93 dogs were treated with the vaccine and carefully monitored over three months after the administration. Only 12 side effects occurred in 11 animals. All of the adverse events were considered “grade 1” and mild (on the scale of grades 1–5). They included mild tissue edema (swelling) at the site of shot, mild shot-site irritation, and lethargy or fatigue. All side effects resolved themselves without treatment. Dogs were monitored for three months following administration of the vaccine and no other side effects were observed.
What kind of efficacy is expected? Is there any published data on survival rates and expected remission times for different cancers?
The Torigen team is working to compile outcome data for multiple tumor types for peer-reviewed publication. In their preliminary review of cases treated, there has been a group of canine patients that have had long-term remission, very similar to what has been observed in human clinical trials.
The Torigen team will be publishing their quantitative findings in 2020. Seattle Pup Magazine will keep you updated to their findings.
How much does this treatment cost?
While the exact cost, including exams, will depend on the veterinary clinic, the total cost is expected to be less than most chemotherapy treatments. Three doses of vaccine is currently priced below $2,000.
Where can my dog get this treatment? Do I need to travel to Connecticut where Torigen is headquartered?
The treatment can be given at a local veterinary clinic, so long as the veterinarian is willing to work with Torigen’s protocol. Detailed instructions, training material, and the tumor collection kit is provided to the local licensed veterinarian at no cost.
For more information about the vaccine, visit Torigen,
For more information about other canine cancer immunotherapy treatments, visit the Canine Cancer Alliance, https://www.ccralliance.org/
Edited by Wendi Black