Texas A&M University has entered a partnership with Belgian life sciences company Volition that could potentially lead to the development of effective cancer screening in dogs.
Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine’s chair of comparative oncology, is leading research of diagnostic testing alongside Volition scientists in Austin, while TAMU also has committed to investing in VolitionRx Limited and holding a 12.5 percent equity stake in a subsidiary of the company.
According to a university press release issued this week, the university formally announced their partnership with VolitionRx Limited’s subsidiary Volition Veterinary Diagnostics Development LLC on Oct. 25. Volition specializes in developing blood tests for cancers and other diseases, primarily in humans. However, the release states, a specific nucleosomic blood test — named “Nu.Q” by Volition — might be applicable in use for animals as well.
Wilson-Robles, who has been working alongside Volition scientists for two years, explained that although methods of cancer detection — such as CT scans and biopsies — for dogs do exist, a simple blood test is often preferable.
“All of those are fairly invasive and expensive, and usually the animal has to be put under anesthesia,” she said.
More than half of all dogs over 10 will contract a form of cancer, yet existing screening methods are not effective for early, pre-emptive detection, Wilson-Robles said. But the development of an effective blood test might be beneficial in screening pets before they begin to feel sick.
Wilson-Robles said she and her peers at Volition hope to create a blood test affordable enough to be administered in a dog’s routine veterinary check-up. She noted that the test, which she projects could be publicly available as soon as a year from now, would not be able to detect all forms of cancer, but that she and her team are working to develop markers for a wider variety of canine cancers. Blood tests have yet to be perfected in humans, Wilson-Robles said; thus, such a cancer screening for pets would be a remarkable achievement, as veterinary medicine often operates 10 to 15 years behind advances in human medicine.
Wilson-Robles continues to work with Volition researchers by assisting in research needs such as sample collection and result interpretation, among other tasks. She added that most of the work is conducted at the A&M campus, with blood samples collected voluntarily via pet owners who bring their animals for unrelated veterinary appointments.
Jeremy Kenny, program manager for veterinary innovation and entrepreneurship with the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said VolitionRx is established in Texas with an Austin-area subsidiary.
“Dr. [Wilson-Robles] is very busy and good at her job, and she wouldn’t have gone this far in the process if she wasn’t extremely confident in the quality of the tests,” Kenny said. “... She is one of the world’s most renowned veterinary oncologists, and anyone who gets to work with her is very lucky.”
Wilson-Robles observes and evaluates the Volition Nu.Q blood test as it can be applied to animal cancer cells. Kenny said these tests would be projected to cost between $100 and $200 per test for pet owners, if effective.
“We are delighted to execute these agreements today and are excited to collaborate with Texas A&M, a leading U.S. institution, to develop Nu.Q Vet products,” stated Cameron Reynolds, Volition chief executive officer in the TAMU press release. “I and other members of the Volition board and executive team have very much enjoyed the hospitality of Texas A&M and are very impressed with the caliber of personnel and fantastic facilities in the veterinary school.”