Many canine cancers are also similar to human cancers on a molecular level. This has a lot to do with our shared environments, Thamm explains — we breathe the same air, drink the same water, run on lawns sprayed with the same chemicals. Thamm told Johnston dogs are also ideal for a study like this because they don’t live as long as humans, so researchers will be able to see whether the vaccine works in three to five years instead of 10 to 30.
So Thamm and Johnston decided to undertake what they say is the largest interventional clinical trial ever in canines. It’s called the Vaccination Against Canine Cancer Study.
As part of the trial, veterinarians screen the volunteer participants for any health problems. Half of the dogs will receive the vaccine and the other half will receive a placebo. Neither the owners nor the vets know which dogs are getting the vaccine, so they can’t impact the study results. The dogs will receive four doses initially, and then yearly boosters for five years as long as the study continues.
It’s a clinical trial model that’s worked before, says Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, the interim chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. The cancer drug Imbruvica, for example, was first tested in dogs before being developed for humans.