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With much on its plate, the FDA opens a new era in medicine for dogs

June 3, 2009 |  3:27 pm

The Food & Drug Administration is wrestling with a welter of big issues: safeguarding the nation's food supply, marshaling vaccines and drugs to combat pandemic flu, taking on new responsibilities to regulate tobacco products and dietary supplements.

But that doesn't mean the agency has forgotten about our furry friends and their medical needs. The FDA today approved for the first time a drug for the treatment of cancer in dogs. In clinical trials, the drug Palladia, or toceranib phosphate, was found to shrink cutaneous mast-cell tumors, which are responsible for one-in-five skin tumors seen on dogs, better than a placebo. Mast-cell tumors, which normally appear as lumps on the skin but often spread elsewhere, are the second most common form of the estimated 1.2 million cases of cancer reported yearly in dogs.

As anyone knows who's dug deep into their wallets to treat Fido's cancer, veterinarians have been treating dogs for a variety of forms of cancer for years. But until now, they have used chemotherapy drugs developed for humans and never rigorously tested on dogs. Palladia, which is not intended for human use, is the first to run the FDA's gantlet to prove its safety and effectiveness in canines. By the end of the trials presented to the FDA, 60% of dogs treated with the drug had had their skin tumors shrink, disappear or stop growing, according to a June 3, 2009, news release from Pfizer Animal Health, the maker of Palladia.

Speaking to veterinarians at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum earlier this month, George Fennell, vice of president of Pfizer Animal Health's companion animal division, said that Palladia won't be available to most vets before early 2010. Until then, Fennell said that the human caregivers of canine cancer patients should discuss treatment options with their vet, who may refer the dog to a specialist for treatment with Palladia.

--Melissa Healy