The IDEA Center Supports the Effort to Treat Cancer in Companion Animals

Author: Tim Joyce

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Perhaps a bright side in the entire Covid-19 saga is the rise in pet ownership.  Having a dog around in these days of social distancing and canceled engagements can add joy to your days.  Dogs can be a welcome distraction and provide a sense of emotional support to all members of the family.  

While new pet owners don’t have to worry about too many health issues early on, our four-legged-furry friends can have the same health complications we face down the road, including cancer.  Cancer can be quite common for dogs over the age of 10.  Fortunately, there is a new technology for the pet-loving community by Torigen (  

The company was founded by Ashley Kalinauskas, ESTEEM ‘13, and Dr. Mark Suckow, then a professor of Biological Sciences and the director of the Freimann Life Science Center at the University of Notre Dame.  

Torigen was founded in order to create a personalized cancer treatment for companion animals.  Current typical treatments are limited to surgical removal, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.  Both chemotherapy and radiation can be expensive and most pet owners do not have access to always see a veterinary oncologist.  Based in part on the years of research and resultant intellectual property developed in Dr. Suckow’s ND lab, Torigen developed Dr. Suckow’s tissue-based vaccine work into, a personalized immunotherapy for companion animals.  

The autologous cancer vaccine is created for each patient using a surgically removed section of their tumor.  A biopsy of the tumor is collected by the veterinarian and sent to Torigen’s laboratory where they process the tumor and turn it into a therapeutic vaccine intended to spur a pet’s immune system against the cancerous mutations found on the surface of the tumor cells. The goal of the vaccine is to train the immune system against the cancerous mutations and activate systemic protection. The treatment is sent back to the veterinarian in a few days’ time who then can provide treatment via a simple subcutaneous injection once per week for three weeks.   

The IDEA Center was able to provide support from its derisking fund for this project allowing Torigen to provide sample collection kits and host an educational webinar for over 1,000 veterinary professionals.  In fulfillment of the IDEA Center’s mission to “unlock discoveries, fuel genius and advance the common good”, these funds allow projects to continue to advance toward the market, gain customers, and make a difference in the lives of both pets and their families.