There is new hope for animals diagnosed with cancer here in Connecticut. An experimental immunotherapy cancer treatment for pets being made in Farmington is making progress and could have the potential to help people in the future.
Over the last year, Michiel Considine has been traveling from Torrington and meeting with Dr. Steve Leshem at the Veterinary Emergency Center in Canton a lot. It's all because of Oskar, his 11-year-old cat, who certainly has nine lives.
“He is my friend. He is a good guy. He is part of the family and we treat him like part of the family,” said Considine.
Last year when Oskar was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his leg, the news was devastating for Considine and his family.
“As a family, just very frightened and weren't sure what to do,” said Considine.
Dr. Leshem is also a surgeon and suggested amputation, but because he couldn't remove all the cancer cells, Oskar was a perfect candidate for a new experimental immunotherapy treatment.
“Let's teach the body to kill the cancer,” said Leshem. “We have had awesome success with it.
That's exactly what Torigen is doing.
“We make personalized cancer therapies to help pets,” said Ashley Kalinauskas. Kalinauskas and her team in Farmington have been perfecting the personalized cancer vaccine in their lab for the last few years. They said more than 50 percent of companion animals over the age of 10 die from cancer and they want to change those statistics.
So far, Torigen has treated more than 500 animals. Once cancerous tumors are removed, the researchers use those tumor cells to make a personalized vaccine. They then give that vaccine back to the cat or dog and prevent the cancer from returning.
“It's a vaccine. Being able to take what went wrong and provide it back in a new formulation,” said Kalinauskas.
Plus, because Torigen has been so successful in animals, the hope is that the personalized immunotherapy could eventually work for humans.
“Dogs get cancer in the same way that humans get cancer.” said Kalinauskas. “So, if we are able to make a difference in a pet and have that cancer not come back or have that patient feel better then we are able to potentially understand how that can work for humans.”
There are other immunotherapy products already on the market, however, they are not personalized. Torigen hopes this could be a treatment for humans in the next five years, but said the funding for that next step currently does not exist.
When it comes to the cost of this vaccine for pet owners, it is not cheap.
“It's costly, it seems like everything is costly. It is less costly than chemo or radiation by far,” said Dr. Leshem.
Torigen said pet owners can expect to pay around $1,500 to $1,800 to treat their animal. Dr. Leshem said the success of the treatment does depend on the type and stage of the animal’s cancer. The treatment works best when the cancer is caught early.
“It kind of ended up being a no brainer, this is a part of our family. We want to do what is best for him,” said Considine. Now Oskar is living cancer free and is back to his old self.
If you think this experimental immunotherapy vaccine would be a possible treatment for your pet, ask your veterinarian about it or head to the Torigen website here.