Heska licks canine allergies with sublingual drops
Thursday May 31, 2012
Human breakthroughs enable veterinary solution
By Betsy Lynch
FORT COLLINS -- It's allergy season, and it's not just people who are feeling the effects.
It's estimated that 10 to 15 percent of dogs suffer from allergic reactions to pollens, molds, mites, insect bites, dust, foods and other irritants. But there's good news. Recently, Fort Collins-based Heska Corporation introduced a new form of immunotherapy for Fido - one that doesn't involve needles.
After more than two years of research, development and testing, Heska is now manufacturing and marketing sublingual - meaning administered under the tongue - allergy drops for dogs. Heska's team collaborated with Dr. Mary Morris and Associates to adapt sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) from human to veterinary medicine. Dr. Morris has been a human allergy specialist since 1989, when she joined Allergy Associates of LaCrosse, Wis., the clinic started by her father, Dr. David Morris.
Dr. Mary Morris and her colleagues have been on the forefront of SLIT technology in the U.S., while Heska has been a leader in developing diagnostic and treatment options for cats, dogs and horses, including traditional immunotherapy products that are part of its ALLERCEPT® line. "Heska's veterinary allergy expertise complements our human-health breakthroughs," Dr. Morris said.
As many allergy sufferers know, traditional immunotherapy requires small doses of antigens (from pollens, mites, molds, dust, etc.) be injected under the skin. The purpose is to gradually desensitize the body, reducing the immune system's hyperactive response and thereby reducing the severity of symptoms over time. Effective immunotherapy can reduce a patient's reliance on steroids and other drugs (many of which have undesirable side effects) while alleviating itching, inflammation, swelling, breathing difficulties and other discomforts. The same holds true for dogs.
Even so, it's hard to explain to pets receiving weekly needle pricks that it's for their own good. And immunotherapy regimens may be required for months or even years. Owners may rely on their veterinarians to administer the shots--or they may be handling the syringe themselves--not something every dog owner feels comfortable doing.
"Sublingual drops can be a more palatable solution -- literally," said Janet Kellogg, Heska's Senior Director of Corporate Communications. "This is a lifeline for many owners whose dogs are suffering from hard-to-control allergies and for which injectable immunotherapy is not a viable option. The specially designed bottle makes administration of the allergy drops very easy, and pets like the taste of the solution."
Many allergy drugs treat only symptoms, while immunotherapy addresses the underlying causes. ALLERCEPT Therapy Drops is a proprietary blend of treatment extracts administered in gradually increasing strengths and customized for the specific allergens to which the dog is allergic. Veterinarians can identify those specific allergens using a patented blood serum test performed at Heska's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory before deciding on the right treatment approach, which may also include dietary and environmental changes.
Initially, ALLERCEPT® Therapy Drops will be available only through veterinary dermatologists. These practitioners are likely treating the most difficult allergy cases and are closely monitoring their condition. Not every dog may be a candidate for a change in treatment, noted Kellogg. That said, the study results are promising. Kellogg confirmed that 60 percent of the dogs in Heska's clinical trials responded positively to SLIT treatment.
Administering the drops under the tongue is key to their efficacy. That's because the mucosal tissue beneath the tongue has a high concentration of immune cells that act as receptors to stimulate the immune system, Kellogg explained.
The challenge in developing SLIT treatments for canines took into consideration ease of administration, treatment schedules, effective dosage levels, cost-effectiveness and owner follow-through. Even the ability to store the drops at room temperature is important, since many dogs travel with their owners and refrigeration isn't always practical, Kellogg noted.
"Sublingual therapy offers a convenient alternative to subcutaneous injection, thereby enhancing the likelihood of pet owner compliance," said Michael McGinley, Heska's President and Chief Operating Officer.
What's more, veterinary medicine may help drive this emerging protocol in people, as pet owners see and report positive results in their dogs. In human medicine, fewer than 5 percent of allergy sufferers receive the benefit of immunotherapy, according to information posted on the Allergy Associates website, www.lacrosseallergy.com.
Europeans are already ahead of Americans in this regard. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports that SLIT has been a common protocol there for more than 15 years. SLIT is also recognized by the World Health Organization as an important treatment option and has been shown to be effective in managing rhinoconjunctivitis (runny, itchy, red nose and eyes of hay fever) and asthma in both adults and children.
ALLERCEPT® Therapy Drops for dogs will be produced at Heska's Des Moines, Ia. facility. Additional information is available at the company website, www.heska.com/allercept. After initial introduction through veterinary dermatologists, the company plans to make the drops available to general veterinary practitioners later this year.
Heska has long been recognized for its innovative approach to companion animal health, especially in the area of allergy diagnosis and treatment. In March, the company announced that The Patent Board (an independent analyst) ranked Heska's Science Strength in the top 50 in the biotechnology industry. For more information, log onto www.heska.com.