The Veterinary Cancer Society estimates 1 in 4 dogs—and 1 in 5 cats—will develop cancer at some point. Veterinarians have more and better options for pet cancer care today than ever before. And there’s all kinds of research underway that could make cancer care for pets even more effective in the future. 

In this interview, we explore the future of veterinary cancer care with thought leader and veterinary oncologist Dr. Zachary Wright, chair of the VCA Pet CancerCare Alliance and Medical Director at VCA Animal Diagnostic Clinic in Dallas.

Q: Why is it important that there are new veterinary oncology drugs available?

Dr. Wright: Until recently, veterinarians have mostly repurposed human medications for cancer treatment in pets. But within the past few years, companies have developed cancer therapies specifically for dogs. This gives veterinarians who provide cancer treatment a more specific understanding of the drugs’ efficacy and toxicity in their patients. Because we know more and the tools are more precise, we can use the drugs more effectively.

The companies providing these first veterinary specific treatments are taking a leap of faith that veterinary oncology drug development is worth in-vesting in. Their investment forwards our medical knowledge and encourages others to follow 

The more these veterinary specific cancer drugs are used, the more companies will continue to invest. Eventually we hope to have a complete arsenal of veterinary specific oncology therapies.  
Q: The concept of One Health suggests that humans, animals, and the world we live in are fundamentally linked—and that collaboration across disciplines will help optimize the health of people, pets and the environment. Is the research that’s being done to address cancer in dogs likely to teach us anything about treating cancer in people? 

Dr. Wright: The old joke is that scientists have repeatedly cured cancer in mice as part of cancer research. But those are usually cancers the research-ers induced. When a dog develops a bone tumor, for example, the tumor developed naturally, or spontaneously. And when we treat that tumor success-fully, it teaches us something more about the most effective therapies in a live host.

A mutation that occurs spontaneously in the body, or something in the environment that triggers a mutation, causes those naturally occurring cancers. Yet a dog’s sibling living in the same environment may not develop cancer. So the question becomes, what’s wrong with the cancerous dog’s genetics and or immune system that allowed that mutation to occur? It’s that level of specificity that makes cancer care so individualized. 

Q: What do you see in the future of cancer care? 

Dr. Wright: We are getting so sophisticated in our understanding of cancer that we believe a cancer in one patient is different than even the same type of cancer in another patient. Each case needs a specific therapy that is adapted to that patient. As a profession, we are not there yet, but that is the direction oncology care is pointed.

As a veterinary oncologist, I want to believe I will see the day that every tumor gets a genetic profile. I hope we will develop a customized therapy for every patient that we are confident will both work and be well tolerated. 

Q: Why is it so important that your teams participate in clinical trials?

Dr. Wright: At VCA Pet CancerCare Centers we encourage active participation in clinical trials. These trials help us learn. They answer questions about cancer treatment that move us to new solutions.

When our teams participate in a clinical trial, there is always the possibility we might be a part of developing a therapy that is unexpectedly great. And no matter what the outcome, the pets and clients who participate in trials are helping future pets with the knowledge we learn from their trial participation.

Zachary Wright, DVM, DACVIM (oncology) is chair of The VCA Pet CancerCare Alliance and Medical Director at VCA Animal Diagnostic Clinic in Dallas. He believes in giving back to his profession and is active in various committees in oncology organizations. Dr. Wright has written scientific articles and book chapters and lectures internationally on small animal oncology. In an effort to for-ward the science of oncology, he proactively looks for opportunities for the ADC Oncology team to participate in clinical trials that evaluate cutting-edge cancer testing and treatments. And every now and then, he goes fly fishing. 
“As a veterinary oncologist, I hope we will develop a customized therapy for every patient that we are confident will both work and be well tolerated. ”