June 22, 2018

Dog Survives Hemangiosarcoma Clinical Trial

Meet the first dog to complete a clinical trial aimed at treating hemangiosarcoma.
By Amanda Carrozza
Josie Hemangiosarcoma Clinical Trial
Josie the dog and 2-year-old Charlotte.
Credit: Wes and Heidi Robertson
By the age of 12, Josie, a terrier mix, had already overcome a multitude of obstacles ranging from surgeries in both knees to a dog attack. But then came the most devastating news of all: a hemangiosarcoma diagnosis.

Josie underwent emergency surgery to remove her spleen and as many of the cancerous tumors as possible. It was during a postoperative appointment that Josie’s veterinarian proposed that the family—Wes and Heidi Robertson—apply for Josie to be part of a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins Center for Image-Guided Animal Therapy. Led by the center’s codirectors Dara Kraitchman, VMD, PhD, and Rebecca Krimins, DVM, the clinical trial aimed to treat hemangiosarcoma using an unnamed drug that is FDA-approved to slow breast cancer metastasis in people.

“Because of the mechanism of how this drug worked, it seemed likely that it might have some similar activity in angiosarcoma, the human equivalent of hemangiosarcoma,” said Dr. Kraitchman. “As hemangiosarcoma has an extremely poor prognosis, we were happy to work with the company to see if we could help dogs with hemangiosarcoma as well as potentially give evidence for indications for the drug in human patients with angiosarcoma, which is a much rarer disease.”

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Wes Robertson admitted that he was initially hesitant to join the clinical trial. “[Josie’s] life expectancy was very short and there really didn’t seem like much, at the time, that was really going to help with that,” he said. “I didn’t like the idea of her being poked and prodded when she may only have a couple of weeks.” It was after meeting the team at Johns Hopkins and observing their thoroughness and love for animals that the couple was swayed.

Whereas the Robertson’s original veterinarian predicted that Josie would have only weeks to live, at best, she was becoming increasingly playful and active as far as 6 months after her initial diagnosis. Most days, Wes Robertson said, you wouldn’t even know she was sick. Following the treatment, the clinical trial’s sponsor continued to offer Josie chemotherapy treatments free of charge.

“One of the reasons that we decided to enroll in this study—besides hoping to give Josie a chance at a longer, more happy, and healthy life—was to help other people who [have dogs] facing a similar type of cancer,” Heidi Robertson said. “It’s a wonderful thing that the veterinarians are doing, trying to find a cure for this type of cancer. So if we could do a little bit by helping the veterinarians get more information and learn more about what treatments may work, we thought that would be a great service as well.”

Although Josie eventually succumbed to the disease, she has the distinction of being the only dog to have survived long enough to complete the clinical trial. 

“Although the number of dogs we have studied has been small, Josie gives us a glimmer of hope that the drug may have a similar role in hemangiosarcoma,” Dr. Kraitchman said. “Ultimately, this drug may be useful to combine with other chemotherapeutics or other treatments to provide a cure for hemangiosarcoma. At the very least, we know that this chemotherapeutic does not have any unexpected side effects.” 

Following the success of the treatment, Drs. Kraitchman and Krimins are negotiating with the trial’s sponsor to continue similar work to improve treatment for pets. The hemangiosarcoma clinical trial was just 1 of several clinical trials conducted this year by the Johns Hopkins Center for Image-Guided Animal Therapy.

“Many owners are hesitant to do chemotherapy because of the side effects. We want to get the word out to owners that chemotherapy treatment doesn’t necessarily need to be associated with a poor quality of life. In this case, it was quite the opposite,” Dr. Kraitchman explained.

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