Promising antibody drugs for Alzheimer’s, universal flu vaccination and cancer in dogs. This week in Abstract Science.

Cancer in Dogs

(GEN, 7/20/2015, Alex Philippidis)

Comparative oncology, the branch of cancer research focused on studying naturally occurring cancer models in pets, can provide insights into human cancers as well. Dogs appear to be ideal pets for such research, since strong similarities in the genetic aberrations and gene-expression patterns of dog and human cancers have been confirmed in the decade since the sequencing of the dog genome. Dogs develop cancer as they age, just like people. Because tumors develop spontaneously, the tumor population is heterogeneous, as it is in humans. For instance, a chemotherapy drug developed and approved for the treatment of lymphomas and osteosarcomas in dogs is now the focus of a Phase 1 clinical trial in humans.

Flu Fighters

(Popular Science, 7/21/2015, Alexandra Ossola)

Scientists have long been in the hunt for safe and effective vaccine candidates that protect humans against a broad range of influenza viruses. Unlike seasonal flu shots, which need six months of development to match circulating strains, a universal vaccine could be taken immediately and help to minimize the severity of disease until a specific vaccine against the virus is available. Where universal vaccines get tricky, though, is finding candidates that can overcome the virus’ impressive variability. Influenza presents significant challenges for universal vaccination because of the slight but rapid antigenic shifts on the virus’ surface from season to season. A new study published this week in Nature Communications suggests a way around this. A study led by Chinese researchers, have identified an antibody isolated from several patients recovering from the H1N1 2009 pandemic flu strain that, in mice at least, neutralizes different influenza A viruses by inhibiting low pH-induced, HA-mediated membrane fusion.

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough?

(Nature, 7/22/2015, Sara Reardon)

One of the biggest disappointments in biomedical research has been the fruitless search for drugs capable of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. But findings presented this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington DC, suggests the tide may finally be turning, though more research and trials are needed to determine if the findings hold up. A clinical trial of 440 participants found that solanezumab, a monoclonal antibody developed by Eli Lilly, seemed to slow the cognitive decline of people with mild Alzheimer’s by about 30%. The loss of mental acuity in these patients over 18 months was equivalent to the deterioration that participants with a similar level of Alzheimer’s disease in a placebo group experienced in just 12 months.

The results are even more encouraging given the fact that solanezumab, which target the amyloid-β protein that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, appeared to have the same effect as a placebo when results were released in 2012 of patients. But after reanalyzing the results, Eli Lilly noticed that while the drug appeared to have no effect on those with advanced AD, participants with milder symptoms did show some slight improvement. Lilly continued the test for six months and began giving solanezumab to the 440-member control group, whose disease was by then more advanced.

Biogen presented separate results showing that people who received high doses of its monoclonal antibody aducanumab for one year had significantly less cognitive decline than people who received a placebo, and had less amyloid build-up in their brains.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery and David Clark, Director of Computer-aided Drug Design (CADD) and Information Services at Argenta (now part of Charles River Early Discovery)