In 2016, a dog named Eliza made the national news after a miraculous recovery from a terminal cancer diagnosis. The 13-year-old Labrador retriever had been given five weeks to live when she received “immunolight therapy,” an experimental treatment developed through a collaboration of Duke University researchers and biotech company Immunolight LLC.
It worked, and Eliza lived cancer-free for more than two years before she died of natural causes. A veterinary oncologist told the Raleigh News & Observer that the tumor “melted away.”
Eliza was one of several canines to receive the treatment at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine as part of a compassionate use trial. Immunolight therapy has since been used to treat a human patient on a compassionate basis, and multiple Phase II clinical trials are underway in companion animals at NCSU. Plans are being made for a multi-center clinical trial in humans.
These dramatic achievements point toward a promising advance in the fight against cancer, but with a large web of researchers involved, the journey to this point was long and winding, with success far from guaranteed.
“This is probably the biggest and most complicated project I’ve ever seen,” says Harold Walder, President of Immunolight. “Real breakthrough innovation does not happen within one discipline. It happens at the intersection of disciplines, and to make this happen we needed expertise from many different scientific research domains.”
Making light inside the body
Immunolight therapy is based on the notion that a light-activated compound called psoralen can be used to trigger an immune response against tumors. Psoralen is a…