UC Davis Launches Clinical Trials to Treat a Deadly Coronavirus Disease in Cats

Treatments Could Have Implications for Children With a Similar Disease

veterinarian with tabby cat
Leo, a 10-month-old tabby cat, is cared for by Clinical Trials Coordinator Jully Pires after receiving a treatment as part of a clinical trial on FIP at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Quick Summary

  • Feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP, is a feline coronavirus variant that can be deadly to cats
  • One trial will examine treatment with one of two antiviral drugs
  • A second trial will examine antiviral drugs combined with stem cell therapy
  • Trials have potential to help children with multisystem inflammatory syndrome

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine have launched new clinical trials focused on improving treatments for feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP, and are currently enrolling patients at the UC Davis veterinary hospital.

FIP is a serious disease caused by a feline coronavirus variant, though not the one that causes COVID-19. The virus will spread through a cat’s body causing systemic inflammation. Up to 95% of cats diagnosed with FIP die without treatment. Cats can develop FIP at any age, but it is usually diagnosed in cats between 6 months and 2 years of age. It is one of the most common causes of death in young cats with infectious diseases. Currently there is no successful treatment approved for veterinarians in the United States. 

tabby cat inside his kennel
Mr. Miyagi, a 1-year-old orange tabby cat, recently completed a clinical trial at UC Davis and has markedly improved all clinical signs associated with FIP. (School of Veterinary Medicine)

Previous research conducted by UC Davis Professor Emeritus Niels Pedersen uncovered several promising treatments for this disease, including an antiviral drug that is not available to veterinarians in the U.S. Associate Professor Amir Kol, Professor Brian Murphy and Assistant Professor Krystle Reagan with the School of Veterinary Medicine are expanding on Pedersen’s research to further improve FIP treatment. They are seeking cats in the early to mid-stage of FIP disease for inclusion in clinical trials.

Trials will examine antiviral drugs, stem cell therapy

One trial will compare whether cats improve when treated with one of two closely related antiviral drugs. The first drug, remdesivir, is an antiviral drug with emergency use authorization from the FDA to treat COVID-19. If fully licensed, veterinarians could prescribe it to affected cats in the future. The second drug, GS-441524 is closely related to remdesivir. Pedersen found it safe and effective in treating cats with FIP. Currently veterinarians cannot prescribe it in the U.S. In this study, cats will receive either oral GS-441524 or oral remdesivir for comparison. Cats eligible for the study must be diagnosed with the wet form of FIP, in which obvious fluid build-up is present within the abdomen and chest.

The other trial, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, will examine if antiviral drugs combined with a new stem cell therapy using mesenchymal stem cells, or MSCs, improve response to treatment for FIP. The goal of the study is to see if cell therapy can direct a more effective antiviral immune response and help regenerate the cat’s compromised immune system post-infection. For this study, one group will receive antiviral drugs along with infusions of MSCs, and the other will receive an antiviral drug and placebo infusions.

“FIP, as many other chronic viral infections, is characterized by a dysfunctional immune system that is unable to clear the virus,” said  Kol, associate professor in the school’s Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology. “Our study explores a novel cellular therapy that may help cats with FIP to better fight infection, clear the virus, and regenerate their injured immune systems. Results from our study will be highly impactful with immediate translatable potential.”

Potential to help children

The trial could help humans as well. It is part of a larger study looking into new treatments for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a condition that causes organs and other body parts to become inflamed. FIP is similar to MIS-C and provides a clinically relevant model to investigate this novel, multipronged therapeutic approach. While the exact causes of MIS-C remain unclear, it is known that children diagnosed with it had the virus that causes COVID-19 or had been in contact with someone who was COVID-19 positive.

Owners interested in enrolling their cats in these clinical trials must live in Northern California or close by because cats will need several trips to UC Davis. Cats will need to meet the medical criteria. To learn more, visit UC Davis Veterinary Clinical Trials.

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