The Yale Vaccine Cancer Treatment for Dogs is big news in the dog cancer world, and in the Tripawds Discussion Forums. The following article was generously contributed by Juno’s mom Natalie, to help us learn more about this very exciting therapy for dogs with osteosarcoma and other cancers.
September 26 was a big day for Juno (aka June) as she officially became a “Dog of Science.”
We’ve been calling her “Candidate Dog of Science” since she joined the waitlist for the Yale EGFR/HER2 cancer vaccine study. But on the 26th, after a battery of tests, she was accepted into the trial and received her first dose. Woot!
For Juno, the main interest that day was the doggo-level window in the exam room. Not a feature for everyone, to be sure, but for her it was like the bygone thrill of hotel cable when all you have at home is broadcast channels.
What are Immunotherapy Vaccines for Dog Cancer?
Dog Cancer immunotherapies like the Yale vaccine are a way of cueing the body’s natural defenses to prevent, halt, or even turn back some levels of metastases – even as significant as some lung nodules in osteosarcoma dogs.
The thing is, many of the available immunotherapies (including ELIAS, Torigen, and loosely speaking, FidoCure, which is a bit different) require a specially prepared tumor sample in order to produce the treatment for each individual dog and their particular cancer.
What Dogs Can Get Immunotherapy Cancer Treatment?
By the time I first learned about immunotherapies, Juno’s leg and its tumor were already gone since her amputation surgery had happened just a few days previous. I was heartbroken that it appeared we had lost our chance.
But then, one fellow Tripawds community member pointed out that the Yale vaccine study did not require a tumor sample (it did in earlier trials, but no longer).
The dog still had to fit the current guidelines and pass a battery of exams at the owner’s expense, but if accepted into the trial and willing/able to complete the required follow-up, the vaccine itself would be free.*
- As soon as the Yale EGFR/HER2 vaccine receives USDA approval, which the oncologist who administered it told us could happen at any time, it will be offered for a charge, but will also likely be offered more broadly beyond the current limited study sites! Any dogs already enrolled in the study would not be charged for any remaining booster doses if approval happens before they receive them.
What is the Yale Vaccine for Dogs with Osteosarcoma Cancer?
Curiously, despite a smattering of study sites that do administer the vaccine, one of the places you can’t get it is in New Haven, CT, the home of Yale itself! This is perhaps in part because Yale doesn’t have a veterinary school.
The study and the work behind it is actually out of the Yale Medical School. The researchers are primarily aimed at advances in human cancer treatment – which can benefit our dogs along the way!
The vaccine is a work of comparative oncology and translational medicine which works to use findings across different species and disciplines to further human medicine. In this case, it’s using trials in veterinary medicine to not only improve the cancer outcomes for dogs, but to also potentially lead to improvements in human cancer treatment.
How the Yale Vaccine Works
Specifically, for the Yale vaccine study (read the paper in Translational Oncology), there are certain human cancers (e.g. colorectal, breast) that have poor outcomes where the tumors have mutations that over-express one of two similar molecules called Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) or Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (HER2).
Dogs share the same or related over-expressions in common with humans for certain canine cancer tumors (EGFR in the case of osteosarcoma). The Yale vaccine targets that over-expression.
It’s possible that success in dogs with this vaccine could lead to advances in treating humans who, like dogs, experience certain cancers which are both aggressive and hard to treat.
But not all dogs’ and not all humans’ tumors have this over-expressive mutation (EGFR/HER2), and even among those that do, not all will respond in the same way to immunotherapies. This is why the Yale vaccine doesn’t always produce the same results in every dog.
- Part of the ongoing work in this area is to understand who benefits and who doesn’t, and why. Interestingly, in both dogs and humans the gut microbiome has been linked to immunotherapy response, and cancer susceptibility and treatment in general.
Are there Side Effects to this Dog Cancer Vaccine?
When we looked into the vaccine for Juno, what we learned was that its most common side effect is a sterile cyst at the injection site (typically about the size of a marble, the clinic told us) which is harmless and fades in 1-2 weeks.
Beyond that, the vaccine would likely have one of three results:
- It might not prolong the length and quality of her life beyond what might be expected from the standard of care she was already undergoing
- Or, it could further prolong the length and quality of her life — yay!
- And it could put the cancer into complete remission!
Some Preliminary Yale Vaccine Findings
Of the dogs with osteosarcoma in an earlier study of the vaccine:
- 65% who were given both the vaccine and standard of care (carboplatin chemo and amputation) were still alive after 12 months
- versus the 35-40% 12 month survival rate expected of dogs who are given only standard of care.
June Becomes a Dog of Science
And regardless of which of these scenarios unfolded, our June would become a “Dog of Science,” joining that long string of participants and researchers who have contributed to ongoing medical advances. Advances that friends and family (furry and otherwise) may benefit from today and on into the future. Even as we hoped for the best, it seemed like a win no matter what.
Learn more about the Yale EGFR/HER2 vaccine study and its current status here.
Natalie & Juno, D.O.S.