Clinical trials are essential to improving both length and quality of life for canine oncology patients.
In the United States and Canada, most clinical trials are conducted at veterinary teaching hospitals (hospitals associated with a veterinary school, such as UC Davis and Cornell). In some cases, a large specialty veterinary clinic will participate in a trial. We are now seeing more collaboration between institutions, whereby, many institutions will participate in the same trial allowing many dogs to be enrolled, which allows for stronger conclusions to be drawn from the data collected.
The goal of an oncology trial is to find a better way to diagnose, treat, or prevent cancer. If a trial is set up to study a new drug, there are typically four different phases that the drug must pass through before it is allowed to be sold. In the most simplistic sense, a Phase I trial attempts to find a safe dose and determine side effects. Phase II attempts to determine if the safe dose (established from Phase I) is also effective (does the drug actually help fight cancer). Phase III compares the "new" drug to the drug that's considered standard of care and asks, does the new agent work better, is it better tolerated, is it less expensive?
Finding out about open clinical trials can be a bit challenging. Most (but not all) canine oncology trials will be listed in the AVMA Animal Health Studies Database. If you're curious if there's an open trial for the type of cancer that your dog has, this is a good place to start.
Once you arrive at the website, enter your dog's diagnosis, select oncology, select your country (US or Canada), then Search. See the example below:
If you're finding it too tedious to search through all of the results, head to the Veterinary Cancer Society Clinical Trials page. Here, you'll have a link to the AVMA database (as above), but you'll also find links to the clinical trials websites associated with each individual veterinary school, as well as a dozen private practice resources.
When in doubt, you're also welcome to ask your oncologist to help you search for clinical trials.
Each clinical trial will have its own set of selection criteria. Typically, a trial is looking to study a specific type of cancer in an otherwise healthy dog. If it sounds like your dog would be a good fit after a screening call, the staff normally schedules a consultation for 'staging tests'. This is where the oncology staff completes tests such as blood work, chest x-rays, and abdominal ultrasound, just to make sure your dog is otherwise healthy (and in most cases, that cancer has not spread).
The treatment associated with the study typically has to be performed at the facility where the trial is taking place. Beyond that, there is usually a follow-up commitment, which involves you agreeing to bring your dog back for routing monitoring (x-rays, ultrasound, etc.) at predetermined intervals for a set period of time (ex. every three months for two years)
Some trials are fully funded, which means that there is zero cost to the client (the study pays for the cost of treatment, diagnostic tests, follow-up). In most cases, the cost of treatment itself covered by the study and there is a stipend that can but used towards diagnostic tests (biopsy, x-rays, ultrasound), but the client is still responsible for covering significant costs and follow-up. Every trial quite different in this regard, but everything is clearly outlined ahead of time to help you decide if the trial is the right fit for your dog and for your family.
If you're interested in discovering if your dog might be a candidate for a clinical trial, head over to the Veterinary Cancer Society Clinical Trials page; then either search the AVMA database from there or, select from the institution that's closest to you and see if anything seems like a fit. Again, feel free to discuss this with your oncologist or your veterinarian if you'd like additional guidance.
Dr. Lori Cesario
Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist
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