Breakthrough canine cancer vaccine clinical trial could benefit humans

NORWALK, Conn. (WTNH) — A breakthrough cancer clinical trial, a vaccine for man’s best friend, could benefit humans as well.

Yale School of Medicine has teamed up with The Veterinary Cancer Center in Norwalk for a clinical trial that could potentially have a huge impact on cancer treatment for dogs as well as their owners.

Valo, a friendly pit bull mix, is undergoing treatment at the cancer center and taking part in a breakthrough clinical trial.

“I’m excited for him because nothing has ever been offered to any dog before, so it’s really nice to know that there’s something out there,” said Marisa Rockwell, Valo’s owner.

A cancer vaccine just for dogs is being offered, the culmination of years of human cancer research at Yale School of Medicine.

“It’s an antibody response, made from your white blood cells,” said lead investigator Dr. Mamula. “We find that in the laboratory they hone to, they target and traffic to the tumor and start to kill and reduce the tumor size.”

Teaming up with the veterinary center is significant. It provides a practical setting to real patients, be it four-legged ones.

“If we happen to cure cancer along the way, great, but the purpose of this study really is to determine whether the vaccine causes the dogs to make the antibodies,” said owner and board-certified veterinary oncologist Dr. Gerald Post

If so, humans could directly benefit.

“Dog cancers have the same, very similar onsets, genetics, aggressive nature of growth, very similar to what we see in humans,” Dr. Mamula explained.

“This technology is directly applicable to dogs and potentially to cats,” Dr. Post added. “Some of the technologies in people are not directly transferable, but this happens to be directly transferable.”

Patients like Valo are injected twice with the vaccine, then monitored closely.

“We haven’t seen any negative effects of the vaccine yet,” said Dr. Mamula. “We are acquiring data as we are speaking. We’ll know very soon how well it actually works.”

Valo hasn’t experienced any side effects.

“He still does his regular activities, goes on hikes, comes to the barn with me,” said Rockwell.

In the interest of full disclosure, Dr. Mamula, the Yale researcher interviewed for this story, is News 8 anchor Ann Nyberg’s husband. He is cautiously optimistic the results of this canine trial will eventually lead to human trials.

Any dog with cancer is a candidate for the study.

For more information, contact Clinical Trial Coordinator Gillian Rothchild at 203-838-6626 or e-mail her at

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