FIP research hopeful
FIP research hopeful that within the next 10 years feline infectious peritonitis, FIP, will no longer be a death sentence for cats.
For many of us this is fantastic news because the loss of a young cat can be devastating. The Paws family lost our beloved Tubby to FIP almost 10 years ago, and we think about our black Siamese sweetheart every day.
Most recently, the Winn Feline Foundation announced a major breakthrough in FIP research. Over the past 25 years, Winn has granted $675,000 to the cause. In 2015, Morris Animal Foundation pledged $1.2 million to fund research to better understand the disease and find a treatment for it.
FIP, a devastating condition triggered by infection with a feline coronavirus, is difficult to diagnose, and is always fatal, up to now. Once diagnosed, the cat may only live days or weeks or months; however, a few may live for years. While feline coronavirus is common, especially in places with lots of cats, it by itself is of no concern, except for the cats where it mutates into FIP. Paws wrote about Tubby’s battle. Check out:
There’s no single test for FIP. Rather 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.
Tubby succumbed to the disease about a year and a half after being adopted from a shelter. We had no idea this kitty was harboring such a deadly disease, nor had we ever heard of FIP before. Now our ears perk up with curiosity when we heard the mere mention of FIP.
FIP research hopeful
Vicki Thayer, executive director of the Winn Feline Foundation, says 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.
FIP, SARS & MARS linked to corona viruses
She has reason to be excited. Research is centering on the possibility of FIP vaccines being derived from components used to treat human Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Both are caused by corona viruses similar to FIP, and this may help advance therapeutics toward FIP. Dr. Pedersen shared this positive news at the 39th Winn Symposium in Chicago, Ill on June 29, 2017.
RNA viruses more prone to mutation
Additional research conducted by Gary Whittaker, a professor of virology at Cornell University, has centered on the genetics of FIP. He is working to identify the mutations responsible for FIP and he has discovered coronavirus, the virus that triggers FIP, is an RNA virus. Examples of RNA viruses are those that cause Ebola, influenza, hepatitis C, AIDS, polio and measles. While RNA and DNA viruses have similar mechanisms for replicating in host cells, RNA viruses are more prone to mutation. That constant mutation can challenge a vaccine’s efficacy and make vaccine development difficult.
The Pedersen group study about reversing the progression of FIP, 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.
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.
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.’
FIP affects wild cats & pet ferrets
FIP is not exclusive to domestic cats. It is also seen in wild cats and in pet ferrets.
The fatal disease was first seen in the 1950s. According to Winn, the incidence of FIP among all cats worldwide is around 0.3 percent, but the incidence is several times higher in high-density cat populations where there are kittens. The highest incidence is therefore in kitten foster/rescue services, shelters and catteries housing pedigreed felines.
According to the scientists, FIP is a syndrome resulting from widespread infiltration of the organs with a type of inflammatory tissue called pyogranuloma. This global inflammation extending throughout the cat’s body, causes failure of infiltrated organs, and fevers unresponsive to antibiotics.
FIP comes in wet and dry forms. The wet form involves fluid buildup: Proteins and plasma leak through blood-vessel walls into the chest or abdominal cavity, causing the cat to appear pot-bellied. In the dry form, pyogranulomatous lesions cause organ damage. Symptoms include fever and poor appetite, as well as inflammation of the eyes and nervous system.
Paws could see no point in determining whether Tubby has the wet or dry form of FIP. It was fatal, and the poor kitty would not eat even with a syringe, and was so weak he could not even get onto the sofa. In looking back, we do believe he had the dry form as there was organ damage.
Wet and dry FIP forms are not mutually exclusive
According to research, 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.
A report published at by IBPSA News, ‘Winn Mews: What about FIP?’ posted on January 16, 2017, says the Pedersen team may be the closest to finding a treatment for the wet form of FIP.
That report cities the research of Dr. Niels Pedersen, professor emeritus at the University of California-Davis Veterinary School, and Dr. Brian Murphy centering on a connection with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), both caused by corona viruses similar to FIP. The report says the most promising therapies ‘will probably involve drugs that specifically target viral proteins important in viral replication. Coronaviruses have large genomes with many potential target genes and hopefully safe and effective antiviral drugs will be developed. They are collaborating with researchers in the human medical field working on SARS and MERS in the hope of identifying drug compounds that will successfully treat FIP. One compound is currently undergoing a clinical trial at UC-Davis.
A success story
While it is too early to report the outcome of this clinical trial, we found some links to online attestations that it is working. On Zen by Cats, Smokey reportedly has reversed signs of the disease and are living an extended happy cat life. We checked out the the website, and sure enough Smoky is doing quite well.
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Have you ever had a cat with FIP? Have you ever lost a cat well before their time should have come? My beloved Tubby was under 3-years-old when he was diagnosed with FIP. Less than a month later, I had to put him down. He was so weak, he could hardly move. It’s so exciting to hear of this update about this deadly disease. Please weigh in and share your thoughts.