First dog in the Netherlands successfully treated with vaccine against bone cancer

June 7, 2022

Dog Rax had bone cancer, was given a cancer vaccine at the Medical Center for Animals, and seems to be all right. It is hopeful news in the development of a cancer vaccine for humans, says Arjan Griffioen, professor of Experimental Oncology at Amsterdam UMC. He has been working on the development of this vaccine for some time, he hopes it will eventually benefit humans as well.

The 10-year-old Malinois dog Rax had an aggressive form of bone cancer. The prognosis was poor, Rax would not live long. At the Medisch Centrum voor Dieren (MCD) in Amsterdam, the tumor was removed and Rax – as the first dog in the Netherlands – was vaccinated against bone cancer. After more than three months of treatment, Rax seems to be back to his old self. And although much more research is still needed, it is hopeful news.

Rax had osteosarcoma, a malignant bone tumor on his hip head. The average life expectancy in dogs with this type of cancer, without additional treatments, is around 70 days. The current option for treating an osteosarcoma is to surgically remove the tumor, possibly supplemented with chemotherapy. This extends life expectancy by an average of one year.

Development of cancer vaccine
The MCD recently began research on a new treatment: a cancer vaccine. The vaccine triggers an immune reaction against certain proteins that only occur in tumors. You could say that the vaccine tries to train immune cells to also attack cancer cells. In this case a tumor blood vessel-specific protein.

Professor Arjan Griffioen of Amsterdam UMC has been working on the development of this vaccine for some time. It had already been tested in preclinical studies and in two dogs with bladder cancer. This showed that this therapy works better than, for example, chemotherapy. Unlike chemotherapy, the vaccination has very few side effects. The vaccination targets the tumor blood vessels. Griffioen: “Without tumor blood vessels, the tumor cells cannot survive and the researchers saw that the tumor disappears or any metastases.”

Chance for Rax
Anne van Renssen, a veterinarian in the MCD’s Orthopedics Department, discussed the experimental treatment with Rax’s owners, and they gave their consent. “Rax is still so strong and sprightly, we wanted to give it a chance. The most important consideration was whether he would still have quality of life after the operation. Looking back, we made the right choice; he is his old self again,” says Mr. De Vries.

More research
In the near future the MCD wants to treat more dogs with an equally aggressive type of tumor with the cancer vaccine. Like Arjan Griffioen, the MCD hopes that this will contribute to a cancer vaccine that also works for humans.