Company pursues first lymphoma drug for dogs

$1.5 million raised to fund effort

January 2, 2013 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia

Photomicrograph courtesy of Dr. Jan Bellows
Cancerous lymphoblasts, resembling grapes, appear amid normal red blood cells in a 6-year-old beagle.
An anti-cancer drug originally developed for use in people is in the hands of a veterinary pharmaceutical startup that aims to make it available for dogs within two years.

Veterinary Emerging Technologies Development Corporation, or VetDC, announced recently that it has raised $1.5 million to develop an agent it calls VDC-1101 into what could be the first drug specifically designed to combat canine lymphoma.

Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in dogs and highly deadly.   

“Anything new that has the potential to enhance quality of life and improve the disease-free interval is a blessing,” said Dr. Greg Ogilvie, an oncologist and director of the Angel Care Cancer Center at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad.

Ogilvie, who is not associated with VetDC, said he sees about 300 cases of lymphoma per year. “Lymphoma is not just one disease but many different diseases,” he explained. “Without therapy, the average dog lives one or two or three months. If treated appropriately, they have a chance of doing well for up to a year.”

Only two cancer therapies are available in the United States specifically for use in dogs, and neither combats lymphoma. Palladia in 2009 became the first canine cancer drug to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is designed to treat skin-based mast cell tumors.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted full licensure for Oncept, a DNA vaccine to treat oral melanoma in dogs.

All other cancer drugs used in veterinary medicine originally were developed for use in humans and are not approved for use in other animals, according to the FDA. Although not specifically approved for use in veterinary patients, the “extra-label” use of human oncology medicines is permitted under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994.

In a twist on the theme, VetDC aspires to develop for veterinary use treatments, tests and devices researched for use in people but abandoned, according to a company profile in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News
VetDC was launched in 2010. A year later, it acquired a license from Gilead Sciences, Inc., for GS-9219, an investigational molecule that selectively targets and kills cancerous lymphoma cells. VetDC renamed the agent VDC-1101.

Steven J. Roy, president and CEO of VetDC, said in an interview that Gilead stopped pursuing development because the drug didn't meet the company’s expectations for human use.

"They did a large amount of testing in dogs with lymphoma before going into human trials,” Roy said. “They demonstrated an 80 percent response rate and showed tremendous promise, but they were a human company and not looking to make a veterinary medicine."   

He added: "Vets hope to manage cancer like they do on human side, and treat it like a chronic disease where you can keep cancer at bay much longer. Hopefully, we can manage this in a way to give a pet four or five years instead of several months."  

Roy said he hopes the drug will be available within a couple of years.

Ogilvie, the clinical oncologist, said data on the prospective drug are encouraging. “We hope it will result in survival times suggested by the manufacturer. They suggest a 50 percent increase in survival. We are really hoping that will be true,” he said. “It's just going to ... take a while to get a good, clear understanding of the true benefit of it.”

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.