TOP #9: Canine Osteoarthritis and LTCI ft. Dr Terry Beardsley

There are a few common and very dangerous illnesses in dogs that are extremely difficult to treat. Canine osteoarthritis, otherwise known as degenerative joint disease in dogs, is one of those. It causes permanent deterioration of cartilage around the dog's joints, and the issue continues to progress long-term as the dog ages.

Osteoarthritis and canine arthritis are related, but aren't the same. While canine arthritis refers to the inflammation of the joints, osteoarthritis is a worse chronic condition where joints continue to deteriorate. A lot of senior dogs are at a very high risk of canine osteoarthritis, and there are very few solutions to help with this condition.

In this episode of Theory of Pets podcast, we're joined by Dr. Terry Beardsley, a scientist, researcher and founder of T-Cyte Therapeutics. Dr Beardsley has spent many years developing a treatment for feline leukemia and now canine osteoarthritis – LTCI (Lymphocyte T-cell Immunomodulator).

LTCI is a naturally-occurring biologic that helped many cats with leukemia, and earlier this year it became the first ever USDA-approved treatment for canine osteoarthritis. Be sure to listen to today's podcast as we discuss arthritis in dogs, leukemia in cats and first-ever treatments and prevention for this type of degenerative age related diseases.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

Canine Osteoarthritis and LTCI
(raw podcast transcript)

T-Cyte and Canine Osteoarthritis Treatment

* To read just the interview transcript, please scroll down below.

So this week I was working on Top Dog Tips stuff, and I came across a new… or I guess it's new for canines but it's actually been around for cats for quite some time… I came across this medication, and the company, it's called T-Cyte, it's T hyphen C-Y-T-E. Basically like in the 1980s there was this huge race to find a cure for HIV and AIDS, and of course that pandemic's been going on and the research continues and that's gotten a lot of publicity in recent years.  So a lot of medical scientists were using feline leukemia, that virus, and feline immuno deficiency virus as like research models for the human disease, and out of all of this research came this new medication, it's being used with felines now for nine years with great great results.

Doctor Terry Beardsley is a graduate from the Baylor College of Medicine. Doctor Beardsley and I had a conversation and that's what I'm going to share with you today to learn a little bit more about the product because now, about a year ago, they started using the same product, it has a protein, LTCI protein that is what seems to be helping the felines and they found out that same protein can be very beneficial for dog… to treat osteoarthritis in dogs.  So now for about a year they've been using it with dogs and the findings are just unbelievable.

When this came across my desk I thought I need to educate pet parents about this because it's something that I had never heard of, and arthritis is such a common thing in dogs, feline leukemia as well, it's not as common but it's certainly something that isn't unheard of.  So if you have an animal that's suffering with this or just something to keep in the back of your mind because if you're going to be a pet owner long term and have multiple pets over the years chances are you're going to get a dog or a cat affected with one of these diseases and it's something that you should certainly talk to your veterinarian about.

It is new, like I said for the dogs it's only been around for about a year but for felines it's been being used for about nine years, and I think the thing that blows my mind the most, because we've had dogs in the past who suffered with arthritis and the treatments for that, they take supplements every day or they go in to the vet and they're getting treatments all the time, and what they're finding with LTCI is that you… it's an injection, the injections in the beginning are a little bit more rigorous and you might do a couple of injections in a few week time span.

But then once you get away from that and as the time passes you can do these booster shots every few months, or maybe as Doctor Beardsley's going to mention in our interview, they like to…every six months you can do these booster shots, and that's it, and you can help your dog.  Obviously feline leukemia very serious and canine osteoarthritis is something that just causes your dog so much pain and suffering, they're not comfortable when they're walking; they're not comfortable when they're laying down and sleeping, so if you can do something to relieve some of that pain with just one shot every six months that's to me just unbelievable.

Our dogs are our family members and you want treatments for them that's going to be as easy, as pain free as possible.  So I was really interested in this, I want to learn a little bit more about it, and thankfully for me Doctor Terry Beardsley was able to talk with me, he's obviously one of the scientists that have worked really closely with this product and continues to work on, they're always doing more research and more testing so he's continuing to work on that and I was able to speak with him so I'm going to go ahead and let you guys listen to that interview.

Interview with Dr Terry Beardsley

Samantha:  Could you just start off by giving me a little bit of your background and kind of how you got involved?

Dr. Beardsley:  Yes. I received my doctorate at Baylor College of Medicine Graduate School and I studied congenital immune deficiency and that was the subject of my doctoral thesis particularly focusing on bone marrow transplantation.  And then I moved to the University of California, Los Angeles to do a post-doctoral fellowship in nuclear medicine and radiation biology, and that's where I discovered this protein. We were actually working on another project trying to figure out how retroviruses induced leukemia and in the process we found this protein.  And I sort of put that aside because we were, as I said, looking at how retroviruses affect the ability of the immune system to respond and cause immune deficiency.

But then I moved down to the University of California San Diego and started focusing on this protein, what it was and how it functioned and that led to a couple of seminal publications in the 80s.  Those are on our website in PDF downloadable PDF, and it really describes the protein and its effect on the immune system.  And then I left academia and went to work for a big pharmaceutical company.

This work sort of sat on the shelf for a while and then I started the forerunner of T-Cyte Therapeutics in the 90s where actually our parent company S-Cell Biosciences, Inc. was focusing on the ability of this protein to affect immune deficiency disease and we used feline leukemia and feline immune deficiency virus in cats as a model for human needs. That culminated in the approval that we received for treating those two diseases in cats.  So that's been our focus for most of T-Cyte Therapeutics history.

And then we really serendipitously found that this protein not only can increase immune reactivity against foreign infectious agents but it can dampen, immune responses to self…  And we had some clues about it years ago when I was first studying the protein but we really didn't understand the mechanism, we didn't know about regulatory T-Cells at that time. And then we had done a study several years ago looking at the ability of lymphocyte T cell immunomudulator to improve immunity against influenza. We actually did that study with a major laboratory over in the United Kingdom, and one of the curious results was the ability of LTCI to suppress the influx of immune cells into the respiratory tract within 48 hours, actually 24 to 48 hours, and that's too soon for an immune response to occur, so we again didn't quite understand how that was happening.

And so again that observation sat on the shelf for a few years, and then through some findings in other studies we realized that this protein could dampen these auto immune type responses and we decided to look at arthritis.  And the gold standard model for arthritis is a rodent model where you induce arthritis   by injecting them with foreign collagen and it causes arthritis in their hind feet, and again it's a model for rheumatoid arthritis and it's used to test all promising  biologics and drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis.  So we did experiments using that model and it was a remarkable response, the swelling and pain in the hind foot was reduced within 72 hours of the first injection of LTCI.

Samantha:  Wow!

Dr. Beardsley:  So after we documented the affect in this gold-standard model we were testing the agents for rheumatoid arthritis, we evaluated okay where could we apply this, and my first thought of course was arthritis in dogs and my…rheumatoid arthritis in dogs, and my veterinary associate said well why not target osteoarthritis, and my immediate response was what I learned in graduate school over the years as did most people in medical research with osteoarthritis as with different disease that's caused by wear and tear, it's a age-related degenerative disease of the joints.

But I did what most researchers do and I went to the literature and lo and behold I found dozens of papers over the last 10 years and going back actually 20 years that suggested that osteoarthritis was an immune-mediated process similar to rheumatoid arthritis, and that data has accumulated and accelerated to the understanding now that osteoarthritis is caused by an immune-mediated process similar to the same process that occurs in rheumatoid arthritis.

The same chronically-activated immune cells can be found inside synovial fluid in osteoarthritis patients, both dogs and humans as is found in rheumatoid arthritis.  So the idea is whether the joint is breached by viral or bacterial infection which has long been thought to be the trigger for rheumatoid arthritis, or there is physical injury that damages the joint, once the immune system can gain access to joint tissue this chronic immune activated destruction can occur.

So we went ahead and we did the study with a prominent orthopedic veterinarian in Kansas City double blind placebo control study so none of the practitioners in which dogs were getting the treatment in which dogs were in the placebo group and we also used the objective force plate analysis which is to put a dog on a platform and measure the pressure that's exerted by the affected limb before treatment and after treatment, and the results were absolutely remarkable.  And again that data is published by the group in the study, that paper is in downloadable PDF.

And the treatment dogs showed an average 40 plus percent improvement in mobility based on the force plate analysis and the placebo dogs as a group had minus 17% decrease in function.  And again we had a remarkable result and we submitted that data for approval and as I said, received that approval last November.  Now it is conditional, the USDA has that provision in their regulations that if you've proven safety, purity, potency and a reasonable expectation of efficacy based on the data you have a conditional approval while you're continuing to do studies to show unequivocally that the product is efficacious.

Samantha:  I see.

Dr. Beardsley:  So that's really the thumbnail sketch of how we discovered the ability of LTCI to dampen these immune-mediated processes and receive the approval.  And the feedback that we're getting now from the field, from veterinarians and dog owners whose dogs have been treated is confirmed in the study results, a definite improvement and mobility after the first or second injection.

Samantha:  That's amazing!  That's really amazing.  I know we've had dogs in the past that have suffered with arthritis and that's obviously a very common in canine, so to have relief that quickly is just unbelievable.  I think as a pet parent when your dog is suffering and uncomfortable it's finding something that will work, and sometimes these treatments take months and months to show decent results for your dog to actually seem more comfortable, so for something to work that quickly is just unbelievable.

Dr. Beardsley:  No, it's been remarkable and I've been doing research for 40 plus years and this is one of the most striking results that I've seen, and I've seen it in my own 10-year old Rottweiler who developed osteoarthritis in his right front leg after having been bitten by a rattlesnake, and this is a hundred and 25 pound dog that could hardly go out to relieve himself and now he begs to go on a three or four mile walk every afternoon and evening when we get home.  And so that is what I've seen with my own arthritic dog so we're excited about it, we think it provides another arrow in the quiver for veterinarians and dogs that either don't respond to the existing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory or the anti-inflammatory drugs and are intolerant to those drugs.

Samantha:  Yeah absolutely, that's just amazing!  Now for pet parents that say their dog or their cat…you had touched on too that LTCI has been shown to treat feline leukemia as well, so if they have a cat or a dog that's suffering with one of these conditions and they go into their vets office and because this is a newer released treatment, what should they talk to their vet about, or ask about?

Dr. Beardsley:  Well I would encourage them to either download the information and print it out and take it to their veterinarian, or encourage their veterinarian to give us call and I will be more than happy to talk with them and explain the product how it works and answer any of their questions.

And I think the most important aspect of this is that these studies have been done by other people outside our own four walls and the double blind placebo control study done by others not affiliated with the company they use the gold standard of force plate analysis which again is totally objective, and none of the veterinarians involved in the study knew which dogs were receiving treatment or the placebo, and so the code was only broken once I received the force plate analysis data. And so I think that validates the finding even further.

Again, Doctor Jones is a highly-respected orthopedic vet in Kansas City and I would even encourage veterinarians to give him a call if they have any questions, or any of the other co-authors on the paper because again these are the people that did the study.  I'm not a veterinarian and so I defer any questions to any of those people.

Samantha:  Sure, of course.  And one of the things that we talk about, kind of the safety of it and making sure that all the studies are accountable and thing.  Speaking of safety, that's a concern for a lot of pet parents and especially with the newer products, any kind of product I think but specifically something that's …veterinarian use and something that's on the medical end people are always concerned about safety.  Are there any side effects?  Are you finding any drawbacks I guess after the animals are injected?

Dr. Beardsley:  No, this is a very well-tolerated product, it is a naturally occurring protein that is normally found in serum of people and animals.  It does diminish with age or in certain disease states, so we've only had three adverse event reports in nine years since the product was first approved for feline leukemia and feline immune deficiency virus disease, none of those was determined to be due to LTCI.  And safety is the number one criteria for the USDA in the approval of any products and we saw no adverse events in the canine studies.

Samantha:  Wonderful. And you say that the felines…it was approved for felines nine years ago?

Dr. Beardsley:  Yes.

Samantha:  And when was it approved for canines?

Dr. Beardsley:  We got that approval in November of last year.

Samantha:  That was the one in November, I see.  Okay, so you've been using it for cats for quite some time then?

Dr. Beardsley:  Yes, yes.

Samantha:  Wonderful.  So a lot of vets probably know that it's out there and if people go in and their animal's having trouble and is diagnosed with one of these conditions if they mention that, it's probably known more for cats than for dogs I guess.

Dr. Beardsley:  That's correct. We do have hundreds of vets that are using it for cats who now we've made aware that it's approved for dogs suffering from moderate to severe osteoarthritis and we're trying to expand that knowledge base to all of veterinarians across the country.

Samantha: Of course.  Speaking of expanding, I know you touched just briefly on continuing your research, can you talk about maybe what's next or do you guys have any things that you're working on right now?

Dr. Beardsley:  Well we are continuing the research and studies both in cats and dogs.  We are planning a larger study in dogs with osteoarthritis, we're really going to focus on how LTCI is dampening the immune mediated process, we're going to work major veterinary school that has the capability to look at the immunological parameters that are involved in the disease and how LTCI is altering that.

What we think is happening is once you arrest or down regulate this immune-mediated process we think the joint can heal, and that seems to be the evidence from the feedback in the field that these maintenance doses can be progressively stretched out to every two months/three months/four months.

We have cats now that are getting maintenance doses every six months and the dogs that are on treatment for osteoarthritis are out to four-month maintenance doses. So again this is suggestive that once the immune-mediated damage is slowed down or arrested that the joint can start to heal even in an older dog.  And again I've seen in my own Rottweiler, he's down four months on his maintenance schedule now.

Samantha:  Wow!  That's unbelievable, I mean a lot of treatments require…some require daily but certainly not months out, so that's unbelievable.

Dr. Beardsley:  No, it's been unbelievable to me, and of course this is the only individual dog that I've seen, I mean we're getting feedback from the field which confirms the study results.

Samantha:  Yeah, I mean not only is it more convenient for the pet owner and certainly more comfortable for the dog that they're not having to do things so frequently, but it must be cost saving as well if you're only having to do this every…like you said, three, four, maybe even every six months.

Dr. Beardsley:  No, I think it's cost-effective from that standpoint and again it's a painless subcutaneous injection and it doesn't bother the dog at all.  We've had no indication that the injections on a repeated basis causes any adverse events.

Samantha:  So when you begin the regimen, I guess, if your veterinarian's going to do that, do you start doing weekly injections or daily injections?

Dr. Beardsley:  Well we have to recommend the regimen that we used in the study…in the room pre-clinical studies that are the base we use for the approval, and that was a much more aggressive regimen.  In those studies we did three injections in each of the first two weeks and two injections in weeks three and four.

Now in this next study we're going to back off to the regimen we have found to be effective in cats, and that's three injections in the first two weeks and then monthly or every other month maintenance doses because the mechanism of action is the same, it's the increase in the number and function of the pre-cursors of cells that become regulatory cells and so there's no reason to believe that the dosage recommendation that we have found to be effective in cats won't be the same in dogs.

Samantha:  Right.

Dr. Beardsley:  We weren't sure of that when we did the initial experiments…

Samantha:  Oh of course, of course.

Dr. Beardsley: …but we're confident enough in this much larger study, we're going to use the three dose…regimen in two weeks and then the monthly or every or monthly maintenance doses.

Samantha:  Excellent. That's just unbelievable.

Dr. Beardsley:  Because it is an alternative for dog owners and for veterinarians especially in older dogs that may be intolerant of other treatments.

Samantha:  Certainly, yeah.  And I'll be sure to link to the T-Cyte website as well so that people can see the research that's done on there and the information there as well.

I need to give a huge thank you to Doctor Beardsley for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me, that was just an eye-opening interview and I learned so much from him and not only about T-Cyte and the LTCI protein but just about caring for your dogs in general and how they developed the product.  So I'll be sure to keep that in the back of my mind if we have any issues with our dog.

Those results are unbelievable and do a little bit more research, I encourage you to jump on the website that link is going to be in our show notes on our website which is, you can jump on there and I link to their site and as he mentioned there are tons of great PDFs and research. If it's something that you're interested in or something that you're thinking about for your dog make sure you jump on there, do that research, read up about it, take it to your veterinarian, have a conversation with them and see what they think about it but there is just so much feedback coming from people who have tried this, and positive things.

As Doctor Beardsley mentioned, the side effects are minimal to none, they haven't had any negative responses, so of course every dog is different and who know exactly how your dog is going to respond to a certain treatment but it's definitely worth a look through and a read and a conversation with your vet. So that will be on there as well as of course our show notes and you can find all my past podcasts and show notes for those on there as well.

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.