Bainbridge residents Diane and Michael Swigonski’s St. Bernard, Poo Bear, should have passed away by now. The dog, a rescue estimated to be between 6 and 8 years old, was diagnosed with bone cancer in early April and given a four- to six-week prognosis, Diane said. However, after trying an alternative cancer treatment currently being offered exclusively at Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic, Poo Bear is not only walking on his back paw again, he is running around like his old self, the Swigonskis said during a recent interview at the clinic, 530 East Washington Street.
“It is amazing because he used to walk with that back leg up, it was in a lot of pain, but — Bear hopped like a bronco, prior to having this — he is hopping like a bronco again,” Diane said. “He can run, he actually puts more weight on the leg that has cancer than the one that has arthritis. His appetite is excellent, his spirits are up, he’s like my baby again.”
In conducting this study, veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne and her staff could be paving the way for a new kind of cancer treatment in the U.S. for dogs and one day, possibly humans.
Her pet clinic — which is working with Biotempus Limited, an independent life sciences company based in Melbourne, Australia — is the first and only in the nation to be involved with this clinical trial using synchronization immunotherapy to treat cancer in dogs.
Biotempus is developing and commercializing technologies for leveraging immune system responses against disease, according to the company.
The clinical trial seeks to investigate the effects of accurately timing therapy with the newly discovered immune cycle, Osborne said in a statement.
“Researchers at Biotempus discovered the fact that a dog’s immune system oscillates or cycles somewhere between every five or 14 days,” Osborne explained, adding this means the immune system is repeatedly turning on and then off in a cyclical manner.
“So their theory is that when you are able to map the dog’s immune cycle and, therefore, you know the exact day and exact time when the immune cycle is functioning at its optimum level, if one oral dose of a chemotherapy agent is administered … at that specific time, then the dog’s body will be able to eliminate (the cancer cells) naturally,” Osborne said.
In 2002, Biotempus Chief Scientific Officer Martin Ashdown had made this discovery about the immune system. The Biotempus research suggested “timing with respect to this cycle appears to be critical for modulating the immune system with each intervention, and pivotal to the success of the therapy,” Ashdown said in an article he wrote, published in Australasian Science magazine in May 2010.
According to Biotempus, during this cycle, there is an approximate 12-hour window when the regulatory side of a patient’s immune activity has peaked and chemotherapy, when administered at this time, has shown to be remarkably effective.
Osborne explained that the immune system consists of a bunch of different kinds of cells, and the cells that this chemotherapy pill, called Cyclophosphamide, focus on are called T-regulatory cells.
“The Cyclophosphamide is dosed and specifically geared to kill cells called T-regulatory cells that mask or hide cancer from the body,” she said.?”In killing those cells, the theory is that the good immune cells, which are called T-effector cells, can recognize the cancer cells as foreign and eliminate them naturally the way your immune system is supposed to work.”
She added:?”These dogs only get one single dose, so these dogs don’t get sick, they don’t vomit, they don’t get diarrhea, nothing like that. It’s not a pill geared to blast their whole body. The pill is specifically geared to kill these T cells that hide the cancer from the body.”
The immune cycle has already been identified in canine cancer patients. This trial seeks to improve cancer treatments in dogs as well as provide support information for further human trials, according to an article published by Bellarine Veterinary Practice in Australia.
“We believe that the technology has the potential to significantly increase the efficacy as well as lower the toxicity of most cancer therapies if their administration is given in accordance with the immune cycle,” said Ashdown in the Bellarine article.
“In this trial, the immune cycle is discerned using serial daily or near daily blood samples collected from canine patients over one to two weeks. Results are then analyzed using Biotempus’ proprietary algorithm and an optimal time is selected for treatment,” added Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Noam Pik in the article. “Treatment consists of a single, low dose, oral, chemotherapeutic agent which, as we have already seen, is able to produce remarkable outcomes.”
Osborne’s clinic is measuring C-reactive protein in the dogs, which is an inflammatory blood marker that everyone has, she said.
“And it cycles, so they’ve (Biotempus) developed some type of a program where they get the value of the C-reactive protein that we run here. (We) bring the dogs in daily, anywhere from one to two weeks,” Osborne said, adding her staff member and daughter, Halle Osborne, then enters that information into Biotempus’ secure web portal and gets a report back, which lets them know when is the optimal time to administer the dose to each dog.
“For dogs where we are seeing a positive change, we can repeat this up to two more times,” she said.
One such dog is Sophie, an 11-year-old golden retriever, who has cancer of the cartilage.
Owner Barbara Erdelack, of Moreland Hills, said she found out her dog had a tumor on Memorial Day weekend. It was four inches and grew to nine inches by the following Monday.
She had the tumor removed surgically and her veterinarian had suggested she put Sophie on chemotherapy treatment.
“She just turned 11 and I thought this was enough to put her through,” Erdelack said. “The following Sunday, in June, I saw the article about (Poo) Bear in an animal column in the paper. So I brought her in (to Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic) on Monday and she started (the trial).
At that time, Sophie had no energy, was lethargic and didn’t want to do anything, Erdelack said. She took Sophie off traditional dog food and put her on an “anti-cancer” diet of chicken, vegetables, eggs and vitamins.
“She’s just come back. It’s just amazing,” Erdelack said of her dog’s response to the diet and chemo trial. “Now she’s on her second trial to make sure everything’s OK but she’s outrunning me. She’s running after other dogs and playing. She’s like her old self. Everything has been wonderful since.”
Auburn Township resident Sarah Waldman’s chocolate Labrador retriever, Lashes, who is 10-and-a-half years old, was diagnosed with melanoma of the toe in January and was given six weeks to six months to live.
She has surpassed that.
“Her toe was removed. She did her first round of (the clinical trial) chemo May 28. She did her second round two weeks ago,” said Waldman.
She had originally talked to four different oncologists, some of whom suggested she try a melanoma vaccine that cost thousands of dollars and only projected a 20 percent increase in Lashes’ length of life before she went to Chagrin?Falls Pet Clinic.
Osborne told her about the trial, but it hadn’t made it to the U.S. yet, Waldman recalled, but she registered with?Biotempus anyhow.
“I remember it was a Monday, both Dr. Carol called me and emailed me and the company called me and said it’s now in the United States, it’s in Ohio, it’s in your backyard,” she said with a laugh. “So we started to do that right away. (The cancer) spread so quick, it’s in her lungs. After the pills, she was back to being the dog she was prior to her toe coming off.”
Waldman said before treatment, Lashes had exhibited signs of depression, not playing with any other dogs and isolating herself.
“On Fourth of July, she was running around with my brother’s chocolate lab puppy that’s not even a year old,” Waldman said, adding Lashes also keeps up with her again in the water when she kayaks.
Clinical trials are currently open to canines with the following types of cancers: oral squamous cell carcinoma, mammary carcinoma, urinary transitional cell carcinoma, chondrosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma and lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumors, osteosarcoma, melanoma, and thyroid carcinoma.
The pet clinic has enrolled over 40 dogs in the trial, from Ohio, and around the country, including Rhode Island, Colorado, Minnesota and Maryland.
Osborne hopes these trials will help provide more support for treatment in humans.
“Why everybody is dying of cancer is because the cancer cells hide so that our immune systems don’t realize it’s there until, basically in most cases, it’s too late,” she said. “Traditional cancer treatment has flatlined for the last 20 plus years, leaving 97 plus percent of the patients in a very bad way. People have gotten together to look for new alternatives and immunotherapy is pretty much the wave of cancer cures for the future. And notice I’m saying cures as opposed to treatment.”
Right now, humans have to have exhausted all traditional routes of chemotherapy and radiation first before insurance pays for immunotherapy, Osborne added.
“But, Biotempus is currently conducting human clinical trials exactly as we are for pets with a handful of Mayo Clinics in the U.S.,” she said.