Revolutionary gene therapy created in Colorado to start clinical trials soon

Therapy may reverse damage of chronic pain

WESTMINSTER, Colo -- A revolutionary gene therapy created in Colorado could relieve chronic pain and possibly even reverse damage in dogs, and it is expected to be tested in humans in a few months.

Taryn Sargent has seen how it works first-hand on her mixed-breed dog, Shane.

"The amount he could walk became less and less," said Sargent, describing Shane's condition in 2016. "It got so bad, he would just stop walking, and I would have to carry him the rest of the way home."

When Shane was a puppy, he was hit by a car, and he eventually developed severe osteoarthritis in his shoulder joint. Despite multiple pain medications, he hated going downstairs and was becoming more aggressive and lethargic.

Sargent decided to see what Dr. Robert Landry could do. Landry is a veterinary pain specialist, who founded the Colorado Center for Animal Pain Management, 4750 W. 120th Ave, in Westminster. For several years, he has been testing a revolutionary gene therapy for dogs with chronic pain. 

"When I first met Shane, I was unable to do this [moving shoulder joint], and I had to muzzle him just to evaluate him," said Landry, while examining Shane. "He's a different dog now, one of the most loving I have seen."

After one injection more than a year ago, Shane hardly limps at all.  

Denver7 first reported on the gene therapy tests in 2013, and since then, Landry has tested it on about two dozen dogs. Because of the results and a new grant from The Mayday Fund, the research is now expanding.

"Every dose that has been effective dose or high dose, every single one of the dogs, 100 percent of them, have gotten clinically better," said Landry.

The cutting-edge research comes from Professor Linda Watkins, head of the University of Colorado Neurosciences Group. She founded a biomedical company called Xalud Therapeutics that makes the therapy. Described as a "synthetic DNA," it is injected into a joint, and it tells the body to produce a natural anti-inflammatory protein, which appears to suppress pain. So far, it has had no negative side effects, according to Watkins.

"This is simply the natural protein," said Watkins. "It's what your body makes, but it's not making enough of it when you're in a chronic pain state, and this helps out."

After years of testing, from lab rats to dogs, her research is getting serious attention. They have FDA approval for a clinical trial for dogs.  In fact, the company is now coordinating animal testing both for the veterinary FDA and the human FDA.

"The Mayday Foundation project we're recruiting dogs for is second-species support to get into human clinical trials in the United States, as well as support to the veterinary FDA," said Watkins.

But outside of the United States, the process is faster. Xalud Therapeutics expects to be testing the gene therapy on humans in Australia in about two months.

If all goes as expected, Watkins said, the therapy may do more than relieve pain. It may actually reverse the effects of the disease.

"What we're seeing is evidence of disease modification, and there is no disease-modifying drug out there for osteoarthritis," said Watkins.

If Shane is any sign, a year after his injection, he is only on one pain medication every three or four days, instead of multiple pain meds every day.  He is back to his long walks, loving behavior and tricks.

Sargent said she is excited to have her dog back, but also excited to be part of something bigger.

"I have a lot of people I really care about -- humans -- that suffer from arthritis," said Sargent. "It's so worth it."

Colorado Center for Animal Pain Manager is recruiting about 100 dogs with chronic pain for clinical trials.  For more information, contact the CCAPM at 720-502-5823, or email

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