A new clinical trial funded in part by Morris Animal Foundation has resulted in a critical breakthrough – cats with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) went into remission as result of treatment with a novel antiviral drug. This fatal viral disease previously had no effective treatment or cure.
What is FIP?
FIP are just about the three worst letters a cat guardian can hear. Feline Infectious Peritonitis is caused by a coronavirus that affects the cells of the intestinal tract. The corona virus in itself is a common virus in cats, and cats may not even show symptoms other than perhaps a mild gastrointestinal upset. But for reasons that have eluded researchers so far, in some cats, the benign virus mutates into a highly infectious version that then causes FIP. It usually affects kittens and young cats, and it’s virtually 100% fatal. FIP kills as many as 1 in 100 to 1 in 300 cats under the ages of 3-5.
The clinical trial
Morris Animal Foundation, as one of its animal health initiatives, launched its Feline Infectious Peritonitis Initiative in 2015, dedicating more than $1 million to improve diagnostics for and treatments of this fatal disease. The Foundation is committed to saving cats from FIP by funding a cluster of studies that has the potential to help animal health scientists better understand, treat and even develop cures for the disease.
One of these studies, launched in March 2016 by Dr. Yunjeong Kim at Kansas State University and Dr. Niels Pedersen at University of California, Davis, was a small clinical trial to investigate whether a novel antiviral drug could cure or greatly extend the lifespan and quality of life for cats with FIP.
“This research is the first attempt to use modern antiviral strategies to cure a fatal, systemic viral disease of any veterinary species,” said Dr. Pedersen. “Our task was to identify the best candidates for antiviral treatment, and the best dose and duration of treatment. Saving or improving the lives of even a few cats is a huge win for FIP research.”
The team conducted a clinical trial with 20 client-owned cats that presented with various forms and stages of FIP, treating them with the antiviral drug. At the time of publication, seven cats were still in disease remission, a positive step forward for a disease for which there is no known treatment at this time. “We found that most cats, except for those with neurological disease, can be put into clinical remission quickly with antiviral treatment, but achieving long-term remission is challenging with chronic cases. These findings give us more insight into FIP pathogenesis and also underscores the importance of early diagnosis and early treatment,” said Dr. Kim.
The best long-term treatment response was seen in kittens under 16 to 18 weeks of age with a particular form of FIP, and that were at certain stages in the disease’s progression. Unfortunately, cats with neurological disease associated with FIP did not respond as well to the drug and did not achieve disease remission.
The long road to drug approval
Unfortunately, the antiviral drug needs to be commercialized, which is a complex process that involves identifying potential companies interested in taking a drug through FDA approval and licensing. It could take several years before the drug is approved and made available for use by licensed veterinarians.
About Morris Animal Foundation: Established in 1948, Morris Animal Foundation is dedicated to improving and protecting the health of animals through scientific innovation, education and inspiration. Our investment in research has yielded life-saving vaccines, new treatments for critical diseases, superior screening tests, and advanced diagnostic tools. We respond to emerging animal health threats that endanger entire species, and make new discoveries in basic animal biology to support applied research. With every study we fund – more than 2,600 to date – we strive to advance the science of veterinary medicine, honoring the founding principles of Dr. Mark L. Morris Sr., and benefitting animals worldwide.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.