Winn Feline Symposium Reveals Promise to Treat FIP


RESTON, VA. — Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) has been a diagnosis without hope. Until now. A new medication shows promise, and a cutting-edge genetic breakthrough may be near.

Once clinical signs occurred, FIP had been considered fatal. This is heartbreaking because most instances of FIP occur in kittens — and as many as one to 10 of 100 kitties dies of the disease.

Since 1963, when FIP was first discovered, there had been little real progress. At one point, researchers were so stymied, many gave up.

Dr. Niels Pedersen, of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, is a legendary veterinarian who contributed significantly to what veterinarians know today about nearly every infectious disease in cats.

Dr. Niels Pedersen of SOCK FIP says he’s determined to find an answer to FIP. It likely won’t be a vaccine. He said the FIP vaccine is safe but doesn’t work. A medication (or combination of meds) could be a solution, as well as using genetics. He called help from breeders.

“FIP is the most complicated disease I have personally studied — you name it, I studied it,” Pedersen told a crowd of nearly 200 veterinarians, cat breeders and cat lovers at the 33rd Annual Winn Foundation Symposium June 23 in Reston, VA. “FIP is the first disease I studied, and it will be the last; I told myself that I will not retire until I find some sort of solution for this disease.” His statement met with thunderous applause.

I had the honor of emceeing the symposium. I pointed out that if a disease like FIP occurred in dogs, somehow enough money would have been raised to find a cure. Again, the crowd cheered. Feline fans in the audience knew that for whatever reason, it’s far more challenging to raise funds to help kittens than puppies.

Thankfully, there was plenty of good news; perhaps more significant news about FIP was reported during the 3-hour symposium than over the past decade. (click continue reading)

Dr. Al Legendre, of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary
Medicine, Knoxville, also spoke.

Dr. Al Legendre offered results of his trial (funded by Winn) using Polyprenyl Immunostimulant. It’s likely not a cure all for dry FIP, but does seem to enhance quality of life and potentially add months to maybe even years, depending on the cat. Those trial cats need to be followed longer, and more research is important. But truly helping cats with FIP – unheard of until now. Though other treatments being worked on by other researchers are also being touted in some places.

Like Pedersen, Legendre is
considered a rock star among veterinarians, and determined to do what it
takes to “help the poor kittens” with FIP.

Legendre explained how a drug called Polyprenyl Immunostimulant (PI)
originally targeted to help cats with feline herpes virus
— has been studied to treat cats with one type of FIP
(dry, or non-effusive FIP). The Winn Feline Foundation funded a trial,
which initially included 102 cats, starting in early 2010. At present,
median survival on PI is 49 days, but that number increases daily since
many cats in the study are still alive and seemingly well.

Typically, cats diagnosed with dry FIP live for months or sometimes
years, so there’s no way to know how these cats might have faired
without the PI treatment. Still, there’s lots of room for optimism. For
starters, many cats in the trial who were doing poorly, are not only
still alive but nearly or completely symptom-free. One poster cat is
five years out from an earlier study. Typically, cats with dry FIP
rarely survive five years.

Sadly, there is – so far – no drug which seems to impact wet or effusive FIP, according to both speakers. However, the hope is to find which cats are genetically most predisposed to fight off infection.

Still, PI does not help cats with the other type of FIP (effusive, or
wet FIP). And not all cats with dry FIP thrive after receiving PI. Some
who do thrive then “crash and burn.”

“We don’t know why that happens,” says Legendre. “Just when their owners
think they’re over it, some deteriorate very rapidly. But even then we
presumably extend their lives and improve their quality of life.”
Legendre wondered out loud if perhaps the final answer is using PI in
combination with a yet-to-be determined anti-viral drug.

Pedersen agreed. “We have all these anti-viral drugs originally created
for potentially treating HIV or hepatitis (in people) sitting in
repositories. From these drugs, you may find an effective drug (to treat
FIP).” But the cost of such an undertaking could be prohibitive.

While Legendre is focusing on a drug therapy, Pedersen is targeting a genetic solution to FIP.

“We now understand that far more cats are likely infected with the
feline infectious peritonitis virus than ultimately die,” he revealed.
“Yet, the disease is fatal.” So what’s going on? Pedersen explained that
about 20 percent of cats infected with a benign corona virus suffer a
mutation, which transforms that benign virus into the potentially fatal
virus. However, only two to five percent of those cats actually get
sick, ultimately dying of FIP.

This nasty pretty little feline corona virus is where it all begins. Pedersen doesn’t believe corona virus-free catteries can be a reality. And what about shelters? So if even breeders could do it, this method wouldn’t solve FIP.

“Presumably the remaining 15 to18 percent manage to mount an effective
immune response to the virus,” he said. Pedersen wants to know what’s in
those cats’ genetic make up that makes it possible for them to fight
off the disease. He points to stress as another factor, as is the amount
of active virus being shed, and the overall health of the kittens.

Pedersen hopes to identify genetic markers for a greater susceptibility
to FIP and perhaps markers indicating a resistance to the disease. He
has asked for breeders to help by sending cheek swabs (saliva on a
Q-tip) to his lab from cats diagnosed with FIP, or cats who have close
relatives with FIP.

“We can do something here,” said Pedersen, who’s raising awareness and
money at his SOCK it to FIP site However, overall, breeders have not
responded. One supportive breeder at the symposium shouted, “FIP has to
come out of the closet!”

Also announced at the symposium, PI is expected to be available to
veterinarians within the next several months, with an initial label for
feline herpes virus.

Learn more about the Winn Feline Foundation Bria Fund (to support FIP studies). 


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