A New Bone Cancer Vaccine for Dogs

University of Missouri veterinary oncologists partner with ELIAS Animal Health to study a promising immunotherapeutic treatment for canine osteosarcoma.


Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone tumor diagnosed in dogs, affecting an estimated 10,000 dogs each year in the U.S. alone. Too many owners are aware that this disease can be extremely aggressive with a poor prognosis.

In October 2018 at the Veterinary Cancer Society annual conference, researchers from the University of Missouri presented their initial findings of a clinical trial of a new patient-specific targeted treatment: a vaccine created from the dog’s own tumor that harnesses the power of the dog’s immune system to eliminate the cancer.

The team partnered with ELIAS Animal Health to evaluate ELIAS’ Cancer Immunotherapy (ECI). Fifteen privately owned dogs (not laboratory animals) with osteosarcoma were enrolled in the study. The 10 dogs who completed the therapy (consisting of the ECI vaccine and protocol) experienced extended survival times – a median of 415 days of remission. This greatly exceeds the median remission time reported for osteosarcoma patients receiving amputation and chemotherapy (about eight to 12 months). Half of the dogs who received all aspects of the therapy are still alive, without disease, well over a year and a half later.

Further, the study found the treatment to be safe and tolerable. Chemotherapy can have toxic side effects and destroy healthy cells, so it’s really exciting that “it’s the first time that dogs with osteosarcoma have experienced prolonged survival without receiving chemotherapy in a clinical trial,” says Jeffrey M. Bryan, DVM, PhD, DACVIM Oncology, professor of oncology at MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the school’s Comparative Oncology Radiobiology and Epigenetics Laboratory.

How the Bone Cancer Vaccine Works

The treatment involves a two-part protocol that takes about 60 days. Surgical removal of the patient’s tumor by a veterinarian is the first step. The cancerous tissue is sent to the ELIAS lab where a patient-specific vaccine is produced and returned to the vet. The vaccines are administered on a weekly basis to activate the dog’s immune system T cells to recognize his cancer.

The second step begins two weeks after the first step is complete. Using apheresis (a procedure that separates blood cells), a specialty center harvests the cancer-specific Tcells generated by the vaccine from the dog. These T cells are sent to ELIAS, where they undergo a proprietary process to produce a tumor-specific population of activated cancer-killing T cells. These are, in turn, sent back to the veterinarian for administration to the dog.

The ELIAS process activates the dog’s lymphocytes, priming them to identify, attack, and destroy the dog’s unique tumor cells. This immunotherapeutic approach targets specific cancer cells; it does not destroy other rapidly dividing cells like chemotherapy does.

While the vaccine is not a preventative and is therapeutic only after diagnosis, “the body also develops a memory of immune targets, which may lead to long-term control of tumors,” Dr. Bryan says. This could mean significant advances in survival and disease-free intervals.

The treatment is available through ELIAS Animal Health. “The collection of the tissue and administration of the vaccine and T-cell infusion could be performed by any veterinarian trained in the procedures,” Dr. Bryan says. For more information about ECI and whether your dog is a candidate for treatment, see EliasAnimalHealth.com.

Having lost two dogs to cancer, long-time WDJ contributor Barbara Dobbins follows canine cancer research news closely.

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Barbara Dobbins has been writing for WDJ since 2011 with a focus on veterinary and canine health topics. Her lifelong fascination with dogs has led her in many directions. As a youngster she would round up her dogs and horse for a day of adventure exploring and searching for buried treasure in the California hills. Inspired by Margaret Mead with a nod to Indiana Jones, she went on to study anthropology, archaeology, and museum studies and obtained a masters degree in art history. Then two new puppies bounced into her life, and Barbara launched into studying animal behavior and training and spent hundreds of hours volunteering in the behavior department at her local shelter. When her beloved Border Collie Daisy was diagnosed with a rare cancer, she dug deep to research all she could about the disease, and has written extensively about all sorts of canine cancer for Whole Dog Journal. Liaising between pet owners and veterinary practice, science, and research, she synthesizes these complex and data-driven subjects into accessible information. She continues to take inspiration from her two research assistants, mixed-breed Tico and Border Collie Parker.


  1. Our 10 year old golden retriever has recently been diagnosed with bone cancer in his left hind leg. He also has tumors in different parts of his body that was thought to be fatty tumors. What is the estimated cost for treatment? I have never heard of this treatment. Is this known by other vets?

  2. we also lost a beloved dog to bone cancer two years ago. as there was nothing new out there (as we live in new england) we took the dog to tufts in the hope of finding something like this. at this time ($1000 later) they suggested to us traditional chemo protocol with very marginal results. we did not do this as we did not want to put him through the chemo with the pretty awful side effects. he had a good 6 months with various pain meds and turmeric in his food. like others, i fear/wonder what the price of this procedure is.

  3. I wish people would stop saying they don’t want to “put their dogs through having Chemo.” Research the facts. The side effects of chemotherapy in most dogs is negligible – white blood count goes down but usually comes rt back. My golden had bone cancer and had her right front leg amputated followed by four rounds of chemo. Zero visible side effects. They don’t give as much as in chemo treatment for humans. It does not cure the disease but definitely slows its progression. Fortunately my dog was accepted in an immunotherapy cancer vaccine research trial at U Penn Vet Hsp in Philadelphia and lived over 2 + years as a happy and active tripawd – doing Dock diving, swimming, and visited many nursing homes and schools as a therapy dog before she died of an unrelated heart tumor. Please Get pet insurance so your choice on pursuing treatment and life is not based on $$. ❤️

  4. November of 2017, my heart dog was chasing ducks in the backyard & lifted her back left leg. I thought she pulled a muscle. A week later she was diagnosed with bone cancer. 4 weeks & 6 days after she lifted that back leg she was gone. I miss her every day.

    A year later my neighbor’s dog had the same thing. She was gone in 3 weeks.

    Bone cancer is a serious, deadly disease. Do not judge those whose dog does not receive treatments, such as amputation, chemo, etc. Those decisions are individual & based on many factors. I pray this new treatment becomes widely available, affordable & another tool to be used on our beloved fur babies.

    My heart goes out to those of you who have lost your pets & feel maybe you should have done more. Trust me, you did enough…

  5. We have lost three Greyhounds to Osteo! It’s a devastating disease requiring some very tough decisions by the human parent! Glad to hear good news about treatment that appears to be working. The real goal should be elimination of the dresses or at the very least remissions that last more than several months. Osteo is usually very painful for the dog… even if this treatment works if there isn’t a reasonable way to manage pain during treatment time it’s would still be a tough decision. Is delaying death by a year worth putting your pet through hell to achieve it? And although we don’t like to talk about it, bankrupting a family in order to keep “Bubba” around another year, has to be taken under advisement. Veterinary care these days is right up there with human care. The costs of these vaccines will prob be insane thus adding even more pain & suffering for many while deciding “Bubba’s “ fate. Seeing our fur babies in pain just rips ones heart out… hopefully this new treatment will not cost an arm & a leg and the best preventive to minimize Osteo is regular yearly checkups for your pets! Sadly, even that is getting more & more expensive ea day! Our vet informed us that there is a nationwide shortage of especially Emergency Vets & Vet Techs. Our own animal Hosp. will no longer be open 24/7. They can’t find staff for the late night or night shift positions. DVM degrees are costing as much as MD degrees and the choices for new grads are focused on Boutique Veterinary offices where the big bucks are still reachable. What’s the Ave. pet owner to do? One of the previous comments says it all… it’s what’s best for our pets vs what’s best for us.

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