Experts believe there is an inversely proportional relationship between a dog’s size and its life span, but a San Francisco-based biotech company is conducting research that may allow you to spend a few more years with your big, furry best friend.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Centre for Veterinary Medicine approved the biotech firm Loyal’s conditional approval application for LOY-001, a drug the company is developing with the intent of extending the lifespan of large dogs and maintaining their quality of life as they age.
The company said its way is a shift in approach. Instead of treating specific diseases in big dogs, it is aiming to slow down the process of aging. The drug focuses on lowering the concentration of a growth hormone called IGF-1, which is associated with faster aging and lower lifespan among some large and giant dog breeds.
“Loyal was founded with the ambitious goal of developing the first drugs to extend healthy lifespan in dogs,” said Loyal CEO Celine Halioua. “This milestone is the result of years of careful work by the team. We’ll continue to work just as diligently to bring this and our other longevity programs through to FDA approval.”
The company said in a press release, “Selectively breeding dogs for size is understood to cause elevated levels of the growth-promoting hormone IGF-1, and this is believed to reduce their lifespan. Large dogs have up to 28x the levels of IGF-1 as small dogs. LOY-001 works by reducing IGF-1 in adult dogs to increase lifespan.”
Speaking to Global News, Halioua said, “The thesis of this drug is that big dogs have a genetically associated disease that causes them to age at a faster rate and die sooner. So, the drug is trying to compensate for that a little bit.”
She said the drug isn’t just focused on increasing lifespan, but also quality of life for dogs. “We’re trying to extend out the number of healthy years. The dog should live longer and healthier relative to what they would have without the drug.”
On Tuesday, the FDA gave Loyal an accelerated pathway to conducting research. This conditional approval will last five years, in which time the company will have to prove the effectiveness of the drug. The company said the drug is expected to be available in 2026, subject to FDA approval.
“The extreme phenotypic variety found in dogs is not ‘natural’ — it’s the result of intensive breeding by humans to create dogs that excelled at tasks such as herding, protection, and companionship,” said Brennen McKenzie, Loyal’s director of veterinary medicine and previously president of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association and a practicing veterinarian.
“At Loyal, we see the short lifespan of big dogs not as inevitable, but as a genetically-associated disease caused by historical artificial selection, and therefore amenable to targeting and treatment with a drug.”
Dr. Geoff Wood, a veterinarian pathologist at the University of Guelph, told Global News that while similar research had been done on worms, flies and mice, this has not been tested on dogs before.
“They’d have to test it to see (if it works). It’s got some promise. So it is something that they’re going to do in a larger group of dogs and age them and sort of see if this is making a difference or not,” he said.
Wood notes that larger dogs are more susceptible to some diseases, including certain cancers, than small dogs. While the IGF-1 hormone also contributes to the size of dogs, Wood said it should not affect growth if the drug is tested on adult dogs.
“So far what I’ve seen is they’re only giving it to older adult dogs. I don’t know what would have happened if you gave it to growing dogs. It might make them smaller.”
Halioua told Global News that this drug would not be used on puppies. “This would definitely never be given the puppies or dogs that are growing. The dog would need to be fully grown,” she said.
According to Wood, this research was a “win-win” scenario. In addition to benefits to dogs, this could potentially lead to breakthroughs in medical research for humans, as well. Genetically, dogs are much closer to humans than mice or other smaller animals.
“We find similar types of cancers in dogs and humans, and some that are different, but they share a common environment with us: they’re drinking your water, probably eating your food and sleeping in your bed,” said Wood.
Loyal said elevated levels of IGF-1 can lead to cancers in Golden Retrievers, hip dysplasia in German Shepherds, and canine brachycephalic syndrome in Bulldogs. According to Wood, the first beneficiaries of the drug are likely to be the particularly big dogs.
“I think they’re most interested in the really large breeds – Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes, Saint Bernards. Those kinds of dogs would be probably at the top of their list for ones that have a shortened lifespan. And it appears to be related to how big they are,” he said.
Halioua said, “We have a long way to go, but I think it’s probably one of the best things we can do for the dogs that have done so much for us – to try to help them have the best quality life they can. I think they really deserve it.”