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UConn alumna helps fight cancer in pets with new treatment

FARMINGTON – Millions of cats and dogs get diagnosed with cancer each year, and a new treatment is helping to change their prognosis.

The revolutionary veterinary cancer treatment is called VetiVax and it uses the animals tumor cells to create a personalized treatment to help fight the disease.

The treatment helps trigger the immune system of the pet to help it recognize the tumor as foreign. It’s being used to help dogs, cats and horses combat cancer.

The company behind the treatment, Torigen Pharmaceuticals, was founded by UConn alumna Ashley Kalinauskas four years ago.

“This is my passion, this is my drive,” she said. “Were changing how pets are treated and this is a modality that can be considered when a pet is diagnosed with cancer.”

Kalinauskas said her graduate professor at Notre Dame, Mark Suckow began research on tissue vaccines in 2004. When his dog Sadie was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, she said he came up with this method to try and fight the disease.

“She had tumors growing almost all over her body and the veterinarians prognosis was take her home, enjoy her over Christmas and right after the holidays we're gonna have to put her down,” Kalinauskas said. “He took a portion of Sadie’s tumor, created it into the personalized treatment, gave it back over a series of three weeks and he noticed the tumors started to recede.”

In two and a half years, Kalinauskas said 150 animals have been treated with VetiVax.

“We have unproven safety and unproven efficacy at the moment; however, what we do know is the animals have favorable outcome after being diagnosed,” she said.

One of those animals is a Yorkshire Terrier named Chloe whose owner Linda Levy told FOX61 since she’s been given the treatment, she’s had no signs of cancer.

“Unfortunately, we all know that the terrible thing of having a dog is that you know you’re going to see them go before you,” Levy said. “You just want them to have the best possible life and treatment if they get sick and I feel like I’ve been able to find that for her.”

Kalinauskas works at a dedicated laboratory space in Farmington through the UConn Technology Incubation Program. Her team members are also located in Minnesota and Arkansas.

The company works with veterinarians to treat animals around the country. The cost of VetiVax is $1200.

VetiVax can work for solid tumors including Melanoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Fibrosarcoma, Soft Tissue Sarcoma, Hemangiosarcoma, Hepatocellular Carcinoma, Nasal Carcinoma, Osteosarcoma, Mast Cell Tumors, Basal Cell Carcinoma and Transitional Cell Carcinoma.

“It’s our belief that 10 years from now us as humans will start as our first line of defense with immunotherapies followed by the heavy hitters if it doesn't work with chemotherapy and radiation,” she said.

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