Pet clinics

Therapeutic vaccine against feline and canine cancer

© Remus Grigore

Here we learn from Biljana Stangeland, PhD, Executive Director, Scientific Director and Co-Founder of Alv B AS, about exciting new developments in therapeutic vaccine for feline and canine cancer.

Canine cancer bears substantial similarities to its human counterparts[1-4]. Treatment for pets that develop solid tumors will usually consist of surgery, chemotherapy, and sporadic radiation therapy, or a combination of these. Unfortunately, these treatments are not always effective.

In humans, experimental cancer treatments have made slow but sure progress in clinics and have given hope to many patients. In particular, treatment methods related to immunotherapy have multiplied over the past decade.

Despite the documented clinical success of human immunotherapy, opportunities to apply these treatments to companion dogs in clinical settings are rare or non-existent in the Nordic countries. As the number of pets insured in these countries increases, the prospect that experimental treatments will also be affordable for pet owners also increases.

Recent research on pet cancers shows that cancer immunotherapy can have life-prolonging effects and is often associated with fewer side effects (for an overview of the literature, see the reviews provided and the references that ‘they contain)[4,5]. We are therefore developing new therapies for companion dogs (and cats) that will combine our expertise in human immunotherapy and translational research with new knowledge of canine cancer at the molecular level.

Alvacan (Figure) is our line of therapeutic cancer vaccine products that combines the best of classic cellular immunotherapy with recombinant DNA/RNA technology.

The treatments we are developing are tailored to each patient and will complement conventional cancer surgery and chemotherapy. We are currently testing two immunotherapy treatments that can be administered at the local veterinary clinic.

What we need is blood from a patient and, if possible, a sample of cancerous tissue usually obtained by surgery (Figure). Vaccine administration and patient follow-up will continue in selected partner clinics. These vaccines will be affordable for the typical Nordic pet owner.

Why are biobanks so important for feline and canine cancer vaccine research?

As part of our vaccine research, we have created a biobank of live tissue and cell lines from canine and feline solid tumors. This collection serves as the basis for our research and may be made available to other researchers through collaboration with us or commercialization of our material. We have already successfully adapted our previously described “human” methods to work with canine and feline biobanks and cell cultures. [6-10].

For each primary cancer cell line, isolated from patient biopsies, we will attempt to establish a cancer stem cell (CSC) enriched cell line. CSCs are thought to be cellular drivers of carcinogenesis. One of the characteristics of CSCs is self-renewal. We have already extensively studied stem and growth properties in a series of primary CSC lines. [10]. Our biobank currently includes 180 samples from 80 canine and feline patients and these numbers are increasing day by day.

By the end of this year, we expect to have doubled the number of patient samples. Our collection of living tissues and cell lines includes intracranial, mammary and testicular solid tumors, sarcomas and many other less common cancers.

We will also map the molecular profiles of canine tumors using previously established techniques tested in human cancer. [10]. Once this information is available, we can develop more advanced targeted treatments. By comparing the molecular profiles of many cancer patients, we can form a more general picture of the disease and develop treatments with broader effect.

The need for animal models that translate to human immunity is a major challenge in human cancer immunotherapy[11]. A better understanding of canine carcinogenesis is therefore one of the main objectives of our research. This project has excellent translational potential and will not only benefit pets with cancer, but also humans.

canine cancer vaccine, cancer vaccine
The patient’s blood and tumor samples arrive at the laboratory where they are processed into therapeutic cancer vaccines.

We are also studying the regulation of gene expression in canine cancer. Targeted proteomics and gene expression analysis are conducted using methods we have previously established in humans[10]. There are currently only a few bioinformatics tools that apply to canine genomes, transcriptomes and proteomes. The number of public canine molecular profiles is also far behind that of human and mouse counterparts.

Our goal is to generate molecular data profiles and design bioinformatics tools that will accelerate this type of research and contribute to the exchange of information between research organizations and communities. We intend to generate numerous profiles of canine molecular cancers and to create new data analysis tools. Based on a better understanding of the molecular drivers of canine carcinogenesis, we also plan to create next-generation diagnostic tools for canine cancer. We will combine molecular profiles with clinical and imaging data to design machine learning and AI tools that will enable better diagnostics and improve drug efficacy.

List of literature

  1. Sammarco et al., (2020) doi:10.1177/0300985820948823
  2. Gustafson et al. (2018) doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2018.01.012
  3. Summer et al. (2021) doi:10.1038/s41598-021-86805-y
  4. Tarone et al. (2019) doi:10.1007/s00262-019-02360-6
  5. Dow S (2019) doi:10.3389/fimmu.2019.02935
  6. Behnan J, Stangeland B et al., (2017) doi: 10.1038/onc.2016.230
  7. Behnan J, Stangeland B et al., (2016) doi:10.1038/srep32788
  8. Behnan J, Stangeland B et al., (2017) doi: 10.1038/cddis.2017.368
  9. Palmero et al., (2016) doi: 10.1038/srep39394
  10. Stangeland et al., (2015) doi:10.18632/oncotarget.4613
  11. Hegde PS, Chen DS (2020) doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2019.12.011

About the Author

Biljana Stangeland. PhD is Executive Director, Scientific Director and Co-Founder of Alv B AS (, a Norwegian biotech start-up. Biljana has over 25 years of academic research behind her and over five years as a Lead Data Scientist in the private sector.

Warning: This is a commercial profile

© 2019. This work is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.

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