LEAH Labs and University of Missouri Launch Trial Funded by National Cancer Institute Aimed at Visualizing CAR-T Cell Therapy in Pet Dogs with Cancer

July 8  


LEAH Labs and University of Missouri have opened enrollment for a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy study in pet dogs funded by the National Cancer Institute (NIH Project Number 3R37CA266344-02S1 awarded to co-Principal Investigators Dr. Wesley Wierson and Dr. Saad Kenderian). The multidisciplinary Dog Oncology Grant Supplement (DOGS) leverages LEAH Labs’ translational CAR-T cell therapy expertise and USDA regulatory experience, Dr. Jeffrey Bryan’s veterinary oncology and radioimaging expertise at the University of Missouri’s Veterinary Health Center (MU-VHC), and Dr. Kenderian’s human clinical CAR-T cell therapy expertise. This proposal aims to study the dynamics of CAR-T cell therapy in dog patients with B cell lymphoma using live cell imaging.

CAR-T cell therapy entails genetically reprogramming T cells with instructions to “search and destroy” cancer cells when transplanted into patients. When the genetic instructions given to the T cell also include the expression of the sodium iodide symporter gene (or NIS), the cells can be tracked inside living patients via the uptake of radiolabeled substrates followed by positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. To date, the FDA has not permitted the use of NISbased PET imaging in human patients, creating a challenge in understanding the trafficking and growth of these living cell therapies and determining ways to overcome their limitations. Preliminary work leading to this grant award previously established CAR-T cell therapy and PET imaging technology in mice. However, there are limitations in the use of mouse models regarding translation into human patients. This study will   determine if large animals with natural cancers can bridge a clinical translation gap that will enable real-time monitoring of CAR-T cells in vivo and the discovery of novel approaches to improving CAR-T cell therapy.

In collaboration with MU-VHC, the NIH-funded trial aims to enroll three canine patients to demonstrate the feasibility and initial safety of PET imaging CAR-T cells in patient dogs. Critically, this trial will show that LEAH’s CAR-T cell therapy traffics to tumor sites, expands, and mitigates disease in pet patients. Additionally, studying CAR-T cell therapy dynamics in a naturally occurring cancer context will shed light on potential toxicities and permit exploration into mechanisms to overcome them. According to Dr. Jeffrey Bryan, “LEAH Labs’ CAR-T cell therapy platform is unique in the field and has a real chance to bring a desperately needed new solution to our clients. It is fantastic to collaborate with LEAH Labs on this project to help pets and, through this NIH initiative, eventually help their owners.”

“One of our founding mottos at LEAH Labs was to ‘help pets and their people’ with our CAR-T cell therapy platform” said Dr. Wes Wierson, founder and CEO of LEAH Labs. Ultimately, this work aims to establish pet dogs as a model for live imaging CAR-T cells in aggressive cancers. “The DOGS grant allows us to establish a long-term collaboration where our groups can design, build, and test CAR-T cell designs that enhance anti-tumor efficacy and reduce treatment-associated toxicities in compassionate use in dogs, giving pets and their owners a chance at more time together, while informing the direct translation of novel therapies into human patients. We’re grateful to the NIH for this award.”


About LEAH Labs

LEAH Labs was founded in November of 2018 with the goal of building living therapies for pets first, and their people next. Since inception, LEAH Labs has been positioning their precision gene editing technology, GeneWeld, to be a best-in-class virus-free gene targeting technology capable of reprogramming living cells so they can perform non-native, therapeutic functions. As a first focus, LEAH Labs is developing CAR-T cell therapy for B cell lymphoma, the most commonly managed cancer in canine oncology. In addition to their work building CAR-T cells for pet patients, they are deploying GeneWeld as a platform for high-throughput discovery and validation of novel cell therapy cargos, with the ultimate goal of helping pets and their people live longer lives.

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