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Arizona State University — Canine Cancer Vaccine Clinical Trial (Stephen Johnston)

A screenshot from a video of Stephen Johnston and colleagues discussing the planned canine clinical trial.
Organization Name 
Award Date 
Grant Amount 
To be used in support of a canine clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of a multivalent, preventative cancer vaccine.
Topic (focus area) 

Published: December 2017
Grant investigator: Heather Youngs

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Arizona State University staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a multi-year grant of $6,421,402 to Arizona State University to support a canine clinical trial assessing the effectiveness of a multivalent, preventative cancer vaccine. The trial will test the cancer-prevention efficacy of a multi-valent frameshift peptide (FSP) vaccine, developed by Dr. Stephen Albert Johnston, in healthy, middle-aged pet dogs.1 The trial will be conducted under the direction of Dr. Douglas Thamm, Director of Clinical Research at the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University.2 The dogs will live their normal lives at home and receive biannual exams with a complete clinical pathology workup, and each owner whose dog develops cancer during the trial will be given a credit toward medical expenses. Cancer will not be induced in dogs in the study, which will only test the effectiveness of the vaccine against naturally occurring cancer. If successful, this trial would provide strong support for the concept of employing FSP vaccines to prevent cancer in the early stages, possibly lead to a canine cancer vaccine, and could eventually justify human clinical trials for both treatment and prevention. The funding will be split into an initial payment to support trial set-up and recruitment, and if successful, additional payments will be released to fund all aspects of the trial including examination, vaccination, and follow up over five to seven years.

We consider this a high-risk project with an unusual opportunity for high impact as it could possibly reduce the incidence of cancer and cancer metastasis. We believe cancer preventative vaccines have a higher expected value than curative cancer therapies, since an effective vaccine would likely be a less expensive way to provide decades of healthy life compared to current cancer therapies, which often only extend life for a few months or years. We also believe cancer vaccines would be tractable in developing countries, which have a high cancer burden.3 FSP vaccines are particularly attractive compared to other proposed cancer vaccines because they may work against many cancer cell types.

Additionally, we believe the study is appropriate and necessary to test the hypothesis, do not see anything similar in the literature or in current clinical trials, consider the trial team well-qualified, and believe the project would be unlikely to be funded through other mechanisms.

This grant falls within our work on scientific research, and was identified through our 2016 NIH Transformative Research Award RFP.

Margaret Chan, World Health Organization, September 2010 [archive only]Source
  • 1. Malfunctions of cellular machinery are part of what turns a normal cell into a cancer cell. These malfunctions include the accumulation of abnormal protein fragments called frameshift peptides (FSPs), which are abundant in cancer. The trial is intended to examine if vaccination with these FSPs can train the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells early, before tumors form and they mutate to evade the immune system. Canines are an effective intermediate step between mice, who are a poor model animal for cancer, and human patients. Canines develop cancer at a rate similar to humans, are exposed to many of the same environmental cancer risks as humans, and have lifespans that make it possible to conduct informative cancer trials within 5-7 years.
  • 2. Statistics for the trial will be analyzed by Dr. Jens Eickoff a Senior Scientist in the Department of Biostatistics & Medical Informatics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
  • 3. “For public health, the complexity of cancer control increased enormously following the shift of the disease burden from wealthy to less affluent countries. According to the latest WHO statistics, cancer causes around 7.9 million deaths worldwide each year. Of these deaths, around 70%, that means 5.5 million, are now occurring in the developing world. A disease once associated with affluence now places its heaviest burden on poor and disadvantaged populations.” Archived copy of link: Margaret Chan, World Health Organization, September 2010 [archive only]