24 August 2016

HEALTH - Making Animal Testing in Clinical Trials More Ethical

It's long been a conundrum for animal lovers – how do researchers gather data required to improve the plight of those suffering from disease and illness while ensuring no animals suffer to see that objective met.

Well, one American start-up company is touting a new approach to solve that age-old dilemma.

Rather than causing disease in animals, typically mice and monkeys, to do clinical trials before drugs are given to humans, the company is recruiting animals who already have “naturally occurring diseases” which also present in humans, according to an article in MedCityNews.

The One Health Company's approach is to find dogs and cats with a disease, such as bone cancer, and test new drugs or therapies on them.

That means animals won't be put in labs and inflicted with disease but potentially targeted for therapy which may help them recover, while also providing crucial data for drug companies looking to hone products to market to humans.

The goal is “two-fold: Provide pro-bono care for pet owners to heal their own pets, while facilitating bringing new drugs to market by collecting data for pharmaceutical companies,” MedCityNews reported.

Benjamin Lewis, co-founder and chief operating officer of The One Health Company, says,“Nobody talks about animal testing because it’s so taboo. We work the same way as a human clinical trial, except we recruit sick pets instead of sick people.”

The company does contract research and claims to have more than 35 trial sites at veterinary hospitals in the U.S. as well as countries like France, Belgium and Brazil.

One Health, which links trials aimed at giving an animal a better chance at recovery with researchers looking to glean data in clinical trials, says it already has a database of about 450,000 pets which can potentially be matched as candidates to take part in trials.

The company's approach echoes a recent initiative of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) whose online database is designed to direct vets and pet owners to treatment options and assist researchers in recruiting animals to take part in clinical studies. The AVMA database is available to the public.

Although a real-life anecdote with just one animal – the experience with Lewis' dog, Euro, illustrates the potential for partnerships forged by the company.

Euro, a doberman pinscher with an aggressive bone cancer, was initially given a three-month prognosis but three years later is doing well after participating in an immunotherapy drug trial.

Rather than living in a lab, pets “remain with families, diseases are never induced and putting a pet down in never considered an option in any clinical trials,” MedCityNews reports.

Ideally, what happens is that a sick pet is put into a trial and owners submit data on its behaviour to companies running trials which are all on therapies which have been subject to extensive testing on other animals.

“We collect data on side effects, which are very, very valuable for pharmaceutical companies,” says co-founder and CEO Christina Lopes.

The 2005 mapping of the canine genome which showed dogs mimics humans much more than a lab mouse, for instance, means additional testing (beyond other animals in prior trials) is advantageous.

That means the company's approach is more cost-effective and more relevant to pharmaceutical companies given its trial subjects offer data which is “more predictive in human outcomes.”

The company's focus will be on combination therapies and immunotherapy drugs aimed at using the body's own immune system to defeat cancer or other diseases.

While the company has only been at work for seven months, it is running two live trials, has attracted more than $750,000 and set up contracts with a large pharmaceutical company.

Typically, the Food and Drug Administration requires drugs to be used in human clinical trials to be tested first in animals to evaluate their safety and how they interact with living tissue.

But, according to MedCityNews, “the typical testing method is to take a healthy animal, give them a certain disease, test the drug, therapy, or medical device, and then kill them.”

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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