Feature Story | 3-Aug-2023

Pain relief for doggos is goal of USC arthritis researcher

Canine osteoarthritis widespread in companion animals; start-up taking aim at achy joints in dogs

University of Southern California

A USC researcher is launching a biopharmaceutical startup with backing from the university to develop a drug to slow premature aging and arthritis — in dogs.

Denis Evseenko, a professor of orthopedic surgery, stem cell research and regenerative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, is leading the effort to develop non-opioid pain relief and joint preservation for four-legged family members.

“Breeds like Labradors and Golden Retrievers become like family members. They live for 10 or 12 years, but by age 7 or 8 they have arthritis pain, and they have trouble moving,” Evseenko said. “Twenty years ago, it was very uncommon for dog owners to treat chronic diseases in their pets, but the culture has changed. Now people are treating cancer in dogs, doing surgeries. There’s a huge unmet need for arthritis treatment in animals as well.”

Dog arthritis: Common among canines

Arthritis is extremely common in dogs, affecting as many as 25%, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The startup, called ReParris, aims to develop a therapeutic approach for animals and humans based on research findings Evseenko and his team reported in Science Translational Medicine earlier this year.

The ReParris drug is a chemical compound that targets a molecular pathway that normally signals when antibodies or immune cells should attack sick cells infected by a virus or infection. Studies in animal models suggest that the drug may block one of the receptor’s signaling cascades, disrupting the long-lasting inflammatory response excessively activated in immune phagocytes in subjects with osteoarthritis.

Benefits of dog arthritis drug

Evseenko’s research found that the chemical compound prevented systemic low-grade inflammation, reduced pain and increased activity in a mouse model of osteoarthritis; in addition, the drug appeared to promote tissue regeneration rather than scarring and slowed down premature aging in animals.

Delivered as a pill, the drug has the potential to extend life by reducing chronic systemic inflammation related to aging and also by reducing chronic musculoskeletal pain.

“Pain is often the reason why people will have their pets euthanized,” Evseenko said. “If we are able to extend their healthy life, that’s huge. That’s the holy grail. Our ultimate goal is to use this experience in veterinary medicine to develop a therapy that eventually can slow down premature aging in human patients.”

Co-founders of ReParris include R. Rex Parris, an attorney and mayor of Lancaster, Calif., who supports longevity research at USC; and Anja Skodda, CEO of HappyBond, a pet health care company.

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