With its internationally renowned school of veterinary medicine and its NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, UC Davis is uniquely positioned to harness the power of each to tackle one of life’s greatest challenges: cancer.
The UC Davis Comparative Oncology Program joins oncologists at both the vet school and cancer center to test novel treatments on companion dogs with spontaneous tumors that may ultimately be effective in human patients with cancer.
In one such effort, radiation oncologist Arta Monjazeb from the cancer center is working with William Murphy, professor in the Department of Dermatology, and Michael Kent, a veterinary school oncologist, on a clinical trial in dogs to test the effectiveness of a novel triple therapy that combines radiation with immune therapies.
Radiation treatment kills tumor cells and activates an immune response to fight cancer, and it breaks up cancer cells, which gives the body’s circulating immune cells better access to the remaining tumor. Radiation also destroys cells that suppress the immune system and allow cancer to grow. After radiation treatment, the dogs in the canine clinical trial are given immune-enhancing drugs that stimulate the immune system to mount a response against the tumor and other drugs that help stop the suppression of the immune system caused by the tumor.
“The combination therapy is like putting one foot on the gas and taking the other off the brake at the same time,” says Monjazeb. “This strategy promotes maximal response against the cancer.”
In a paper on the canine trial published in 2016, the researchers reported that the triple therapy worked to reduce the spread of cancer and improved survival in dogs, findings that give the investigators hope that because canine tumors closely reflect human cancer, this approach will be effective in humans with cancer.
“The translation to the clinic is being accelerated,” Monjazeb reports. “We anticipate that our first two human clinical trials growing out of this research will open this summer.”