Veterinary researchers close to Feline Infectious Peritonitis treatment

FIP, or Feline Infectious Peritonitis, is a disease that hits far to close to home for me. I have had two bouts with FIP and cats the most recent being my baby Aria

My sweet aria, that we lost to feline infectious peritonitis

FIP, a devastating condition triggered by infection with a feline coronavirus, is difficult to diagnose. No single test exists; diagnosis is made by taking the sum of numerous findings. Experts at the University of Tennessee’s veterinary college estimate that FIP affects as many as 5 percent of cats in shelters and catteries, as well as some smaller proportion of household felines.

In the case of my baby Aria, its only initial symptom appeared as a slight eye infection and she was treated as such. It wasn’t until many months later when she woke up one morning and was unable to walk, stopped eating and drinking and FIP was assumed to be the condition.

It was at that time that I started a non-profit for her, the Aria Feline Infectious Peritonitis Foundation and began the concept that would become this website. The main purpose being to increase knowledge about cat care, diseases and help increase awareness where I could towards FIP. So it is with great pleasure when I read this article today.

“Half a century since scientists began trying to unlock the mysteries of feline infectious peritonitis, a fatal disease that affects mostly young cats, momentum seems to be building toward a treatment, with research underway at numerous institutions.”

“To me, it looks like FIP research in all areas is really ramping up, and we are making bigger strides than we have in the past,” observed Dr. Vicki Thayer, executive director of the Winn Feline Foundation, a nonprofit that funds medical studies to improve feline health. “We know a lot more about the virus and what it does.”

This has been the big mystery of FIP for a while, the what it does? Right now the best you get is that there are two forms of FIP, wet FIP and dry FIP, other than that the Vet normally just uses feline infectious peritonitis to diagnose cats as the it could be this disease. The wet and dry forms of the disease are not mutually exclusive. Some patients progress from the dry to the wet form. With either form, life expectancy after diagnosis can be as short as one week, although some cats survive for months or, rarely, for years. Pedersen noted that while it’s commonly thought that cats die quickly from FIP once clinical signs develop, the major cause of death for cats with FIP actually is euthanasia. Further, cats with wet FIP usually are much sicker than cats with dry FIP, so they often are euthanized earlier, he said.

Thayer said she’s particularly excited about research on reversing the progression of FIP. The work is a collaborative effort between Dr. Niels Pedersen, a veterinary researcher at the University of California Davis, Drs. Yunjeong Kim and Kyeong-Ok Chang of Kansas State University and William Groutas, a medicinal chemist and professor at Wichita State University.

“Their study, published in March 2016 in the journal PLOS Pathogens, identifies a promising new compound called 3CL protease inhibitor GC376 that appears to prevent the FIP virus from replicating. It does this by inhibiting protease, an enzyme the virus needs to infect more cells. Stopping viral replication gives the body a chance to recover.The researchers reported, “We found that antiviral treatment led to full recovery of cats when treatment was started at a stage of disease that would be otherwise fatal if left untreated.” That study was done with infected laboratory cats. Pedersen and colleagues have since completed testing of GC376 in cats with naturally occurring FIP. He said the results are promising, and the research team aims to publish those findings in a peer-reviewed journal. The research is continuing with clinical trials involving 70 cats.”

This is super exciting! For anyone that has lost a cat to feline infectious peritonitis could you image how great it would have been to have been able to bring them back from a late stage? I for one would have gladly paid for this and I am glad the research is being done! But wait it gets better!

In addition to GC376, Pedersen’s team is screening other prospective drugs for their ability to inhibit FIP. Field trials on a second antiviral compound are slated to begin soon and likely will involve a small number of cats whose owners understand the trial as a research endeavor rather than a treatment. “If things go well, there will hopefully be more drugs to test down the line,” Pedersen said.

In other labs, research focuses not on drug development but on the biology that underlies FIP. The virus that causes FIP is the product of mutations in a common feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) which, according to a review paper by Pedersen, is ubiquitous in cats throughout the world and not itself an important pathogen. The Pedersen paper explains: “FECV is shed in the feces of most apparently healthy cats in large multi-cat environments, and transmission results from direct ingestion of feces or contaminated litter and other fomites. Kittens usually become infected at around 9 weeks of age. Mutants of FECV capable of causing FIP are probably generated in large numbers during this initial infection, when levels of FECV replication are extremely high.” The laboratory of Gary Whittaker, a professor of virology at Cornell University, is working to identify the mutations responsible for FIP pathogenesis. Whittaker last year received more than $30,000 from Winn and $64,000 from Morris to further his research.

With no cure for FIP, the best way for those who raise cats to cope with the disease is by preventing or minimizing its development through good husbandry, Pedersen said. He encourages rescue organizations, breeders and owners to keep catteries small, and to avoid mating cats that have produced kittens that have died of FIP.

While researchers are approaching the disease from multiple directions, Pedersen’s bet is on antiviral drugs. Moreover, he maintains that if veterinary researchers hope to cure FIP, they should align themselves with major pharmaceutical manufacturers that are developing drugs for human use. “Veterinary viruses have the same gene targets as their human counterparts, so why not take advantage of the hundreds of millions of dollars that pharmaceutical companies invest in developing antiviral drugs for human diseases?” he argues. “It would be extremely costly if done in isolation by veterinary institutions. We must partner with human companies, and apply their technology and drugs to veterinary purposes.” Yunjeong Kim, Pedersen’s research collaborator, said antiviral drugs are an undeveloped area in veterinary medicine. “We don’t yet have even one antiviral drug specifically licensed for use for animal viral diseases, although animals are afflicted by viral infections just like humans,” Kim said. “Hopefully it may change in the near future … ”

Pedersen and colleagues are seeking a pharmaceutical company willing to take GC376 through the costly U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process to market it for use by clinical veterinarians. Pedersen estimates the process could take a year or more; Thayer envisions a longer wait of 5 to 10 years before commercial availability.

So now we are sitting on the cusp of a cure for FIP! The deadliest of cat diseases. I root for the day that no one has to deal with this again!

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