Curing Cancer in Dogs
LEAH Labs is curing cancer in dogs.
It’s taking a treatment that’s already curing human patients with lymphoma — known as CAR-T cell therapy — and using gene editing to re-engineer it for dogs.
Simply put, it’s using man’s best science for man’s best friend.
LEAH Labs raised funds from investors like you in late 2019. Since then, this Y Combinator-backed company has received nearly $400,000 in grants, hired a Vice President of Cell Biology, and created a proof of concept for its cell therapy.
Now it’s studying the safety of its Minimum Viable Product and is seeking additional capital to bring its treatment to market in three years’ time.
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 90 million dogs. And their owners spend $90 billion a year on them and other pets, including $36 billion on veterinary care.
Unfortunately, one-third of dogs will die of cancer. This includes half of all dogs over 10 years old. Each year, 6 million dogs are diagnosed with cancer.
The problem is that current treatment options are either generic chemotherapies first developed for humans, or expensive, invasive surgeries.
LEAH Labs is creating a new option, one that uses the animal’s living immune cells to fight cancer.
As mentioned, the treatment is CAR-T cell therapy, an already FDA-approved treatment for humans suffering from cancer.
Essentially, LEAH Labs is using proprietary technology to isolate and re-program T-cells. These are a group of white blood cells that are more advanced than standard immune cells — a “special ops” division of the body’s immune system designed to attack bacteria and viruses.
T-cells are re-programmed using gene editing and encoded with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). CARs are engineered to be receptive to certain shapes, called “antigens,” on cancer cells. Once re-programmed, the T-cells are infused into the patient. They then seek out and destroy cancerous cells.
LEAH Labs aims to treat several types of cancer in dogs. But it's starting with B-cell lymphoma. This disease is the clinical equivalent to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans, and kills more than 250,000 dogs a year.
Currently, dogs with B-cell lymphoma are treated with CHOP chemotherapy, a combination of therapies originally developed to treat humans in the 1970s. More than $500 million is spent on this treatment each year.
This treatment requires at least a dozen vet visits, costs as much as $12,000, and only extends the life of the animal by about a year. In contrast, LEAH Labs’ therapy requires only a single vet visit, costs around $5,000, and has achieved an 80% positive response rate in early testing.
In addition to its focus on CAR-T cell therapy, LEAH Labs is partnering with pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions that have novel cell therapies they want to test.
The company is offering these therapies to dogs in "compassionate use" cases. Here, dogs with incurable diseases can be given a chance at a healthy life, while companies can gain clinical insight of a new therapy’s activity to one day, potentially, be used in humans.
With respect to marketing, the company plans to follow one of two paths:
First, it may license the distribution rights of its therapy to animal health pharmaceutical companies like Elanco. One recent lymphoma chemotherapy, Tanovea, was brought to market and distributed this way. LEAH Labs has had conversations with top animal health pharmaceutical companies about its product.
Second, the company may choose to handle marketing and distribution in-house.
LEAH Labs is regulated by the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics, not the FDA. This saves the company millions of dollars in drug development and regulatory costs.
The USDA path of approval is straightforward. After safety studies (which are being run now), the company will go into efficacy trials.
After that, the company can be awarded a conditional license to begin selling its therapy. LEAH Labs aims to complete clinical trials in Q3 2022 and receive its conditional license in Q2 2024.
Prior to starting LEAH Labs, Wesley was a consultant for Lifengine Technologies, a biotech company developing genome engineering solutions to advance life-science technologies.
Before that, he spent five years obtaining his Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Iowa State University, where he also earned a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology.
In addition to his role with LEAH Labs, Stephen is a professor at Mayo Clinic, where he serves as Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He’s been affiliated with the hospital since 2007.
Prior to that, he was co-founder and CEO of Lifengine Technologies, and also co-founded the InSciEd Out Foundation, a collaborative committed to rebuilding pre-K through Grade 12 science education.
Earlier, he spent 24 years as a professor at the University of Minnesota. While there, he co-founded Discovery Genomics, a biotech company that was acquired in 2016 by Immusoft.
Stephen holds Bachelor’s degrees in Genetics and Development Biology, as well as Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois. He also has a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Johns Hopkins University.
Alex joined LEAH Labs in July 2020.
Most recently, he was a technical sales consultant with Militenyi Biotec, a global biotech company providing cellular biology services to scientists and clinical researchers. Before that, he was a graduate research assistant at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he focused on cellular biology, molecular immunology, and genetics.
Earlier, he conducted similar research at South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.
He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Buena Vista University, a Master’s degree in Biological Science from South Dakota State University, and a Ph.D. in Microbiology from Medical College of Wisconsin.
In addition to working for LEAH Labs, Jonathan is an associate professor of pharmacology at Iowa State University. He specializes in teaching mathematical modeling of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in human and animal health.
Prior to that, he was Vice President of International Affairs for the European Association of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology. He also served as Chair of the Education and Residency Committee and European Veterinary Specialist during his six years there.
Jonathan has experience at two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. He spent two years with Roche Holding as a quantitive systems pharmacology franchise leader, developing model-based analysis plans to support drug discovery. He also spent six years at Novartis as a pharmacology modeler for integrated quantitative sciences.
He earned a degree in Veterinary Medicine, a Master’s degree in Pharmacology, and a Ph.D. in Modeling and Simulation Pharmacology.
Saad has extensive experience at Mayo Clinic, where he worked from 2010 to 2013, and then again since February 2016.
At Mayo, he served as a consultant in hematology, immunology, and molecular medicine. Between 2013 and 2016, he was a Mayo Clinic Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania studying T-cell immunotherapy.
He began his career as a medical resident at McLaren Hospital at Michigan State University, where he rose to the position of Chief Resident.
Saad earned his M.D. from the University of Baghdad School of Medicine.
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