Viral immunologist Dr. Byram Bridle has developed an innovative new way to treat osteosarcoma, the same type of bone cancer that took Terry Fox’s life – and next year will start canine clinical trials at the University of Guelph’s Animal Cancer Centre with new funds from TFRI.
“Dogs are like people – right now they have a very poor prognosis when diagnosed with bone cancer,” says Dr. Bridle, noting that the Animal Cancer Centre sees one-to-three new cases of canine osteosarcoma every week. “Dogs develop osteosarcoma at rates 10 times higher than humans, and are just as much in need of alternative therapies as we are.”
Despite aggressive treatments like limb amputation and chemotherapy, many patients with osteosarcoma die when the cancer spreads throughout the body. Dr. Bridle’s research will combine two novel forms of cancer therapy -- immunotherapy and oncolytic viruses -- to “kickstart a patient’s immune system to target and kill their own cancer with exquisite specificity.”
Oncolytic viruses are harmless to humans and kill only cancer cells, while immunotherapy utilizes the power of the immune system to destroy tumours. The treatment will be simple and inexpensive, with two shots administered two weeks apart.
No harmful side effects are anticipated for the dogs, notes Dr. Bridle, and the vaccines will be tested to ensure both efficacy and safety. Forty-five dogs from the centre that meet the inclusion criteria for the study will be given the option to participate. Dr. Bridle is also applying to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for permission to begin the veterinary clinical trial.
Dr. John Bell, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, is mentoring Dr. Bridle for the duration of his three-year award. This research will “facilitate development of therapies that could transform the way cancer is treated in Canada,” says Dr. Bell. “I certainly will, with pleasure, continue to personally provide mentorship to this promising researcher.”
When Terry Fox died of osteosarcoma, adds Dr. Bridle, this approach to treatment wasn’t even an option.
“This treatment is a win-win situation,” he says. “If we’re successful with the dogs, we will immediately have a veterinary application for the therapy and gain a lot of confidence moving forward into a human clinical trial. It just goes to show you how far we’ve come!”