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Experimental drug trial hopes to develop medicine to extend a dog’s life

By Amanda Starrantino

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    LOS ANGELES (KCAL) — Heidi Forrest has owned many Newfoundland dogs throughout her life.

“I would never live without a Newfoundland,” she said.

As much as Forrest has cherished each of her Newfies, there’s a reason she’s had so many of them: old age for large breeds tends to start early.

“They don’t live very long,” she said. They’re entering senior citizen when they’re 7.”

In an effort to live his best life for as long as possible, one of her dogs, Logan, receives physical therapy, laser treatments, massages and a joint mobilization regimen. There’s also an obstacle course to preserve his cognitive function. Despite all of this therapy, Logan and many other large breeds are only expected to live between 8 and 10 years compared to smaller dogs like a miniature poodle bixby which can live up to 20 years.

A biotech startup called Loyal is developing new drugs to address the health and lifespan disparities between giant and small-breed dogs.

“One of the things that leads larger dogs to be bigger is an increase in a hormone called IGF-1,” Dr. Brennan McKenzie, the director of veterinary medicine at Loyal, said. “After they’re done growing, that hormone stays high and it has a bunch of negative health effects on large-breed dogs that we think contribute to their aging faster and developing age-related diseases sooner. We’re hoping to lower the levels of that hormone as part of our overall strategy to slow that aging process.”

Loyal is now recruiting dogs to help test medication that inhibits IGF-1.

“We’ve done a pilot study in 130 dogs showing that the drug does, in fact, achieve the target we want,” Mckenzie said.

The Federal Drug Administration is reviewing Loyal’s data to determine whether the trial can be expanded and the IGF-1 to more dogs.

“Our initial conservative goal is let’s see if we can make them healthy for at least a year longer and then go from there,” Mckenzie said.

While this is welcome news for pet owners wanting to get their paws on this, for some veterinarians, this new drug would be quite the treat.

“As adult dogs, that hormone being an elevated level in these big breed dogs is linked to cardiovascular disease, dementia, cancer, metabolic disease,” veterinarian Dr. Sam Park said.

Forrest knows all too well about these age-related diseases as three of her Newfoundlands died of cancer: one at 5, another at 7 and the other at 8 years old.

“It’s gut-wrenching. It really is,” she said.

While Forrest has no plans to cut back on any of Logan’s therapy or the daily quality time the whole family shares together, a new therapy could be a tempting add-on.

“I would try it if it ever comes out on the market and if it’s recommended by my veterinarian,” Forrest said.

The way she sees it, every extra day with her pups is a gift, and the more choices there are for getting that extra time, the better for everyone.

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