World’s largest genomic study of canine cancer reveals potential for novel human cancer treatments

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Researchers from Stanford AI Health and One Health, the world’s first translational canine cancer care company, published the results from the largest-ever genomic study of canine cancer which revealed a promising path for enhanced human cancer treatments.

The study, published in Nature Precision Oncology, reveals a striking—and previously unproven—similarity between human and canine cancer journeys that may hold the key to developing more effective and affordable cancer drugs that could save the lives of both humans and their pets.

The first-of-its-kind study enrolled 2,119 dogs with cancer from more than 200 veterinary clinics and used artificial intelligence to analyze how specific combinations of genetic mutations associated with cancer and targeted therapy affected the outcomes of canine patients. 

The research confirmed that dogs and humans with matching genetic mutations respond similarly to existing cancer treatments targeted at those mutations. It also revealed two previously unknown mutation-treatment combinations that led to a statistically significant improvement in canine cancer outcomes, a finding that could lead to improved treatments in human cancer patients.

“We saw an incredible impact by using human drugs to transform canine cancer cure,” One Health CEO Christina Lopes said in a statement. “One out of every 3 dogs will develop cancer in their lifetimes, and by crushing cancer in dogs we are learning important lessons for crushing cancer in humans, too. We’re effectively turning every veterinarian in the US into a protagonist in the future of cancer care—when they treat our canine family members they are simultaneously advancing the discovery of new therapeutics for human cancer.”

Dogs are a useful model of studying human cancer treatments because they spontaneously develop tumors with genetic mutations and tissue structures similar to human tumors. Unlike humans, however, dogs aren’t subject to the same federal regulations that limit the types of treatments they can receive. Whereas human cancer patients can only receive targeted cancer treatments that have been shown to be effective for specific genetic mutations in rigorous clinical trials, veterinarians can use existing human drugs to treat canine cancer with “off-target” genetic mutations (The Cancer Letter, March 3, 2023).

One Health’s new study demonstrated that these “off-target” applications can save canine cancer patients’ lives and in some instances showed a 3x increase in the survival rates of canine patients. This finding has important implications for treating human cancer because it sidesteps the trial-and-error approach to developing new cancer treatments. By collecting data on the genetics, treatments, and outcomes of canine cancer patients, One Health showed it is possible to rapidly identify promising new treatments for both dogs and humans.

Today, it can cost up to $2.7 billion and take 10 to 15 years to bring a new cancer drug to market because of the incredible expense and recruitment difficulties associated with human clinical trials. Each clinical trial for novel cancer drugs or new applications for existing drugs is the biomedical approach of searching for a needle in a haystack. The odds of a new cancer treatment working are low—an estimated 97% of cancer drugs tested in clinical trials never make it to market. 

If drug developers use One Health’s canine oncology database—the largest of its kind in the world—they can rapidly identify new cancer treatments that have a higher likelihood of success, which accelerates and de-risks the R&D process for new cancer drugs.

“One of the biggest challenges in developing new cancer drugs is accessing the large amounts of clinical data you need to make reliable predictions about how the drug will affect a patient’s prognosis,” James Zou, chief AI scientist at Stanford Health and senior author of the study, said in a statement. “Collecting this data in humans is slow and incredibly expensive, but by partnering with veterinarians and their canine patients we can use that clinical data to dramatically accelerate the development of novel cancer treatments that will benefit both dogs and their owners.”

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