Increasingly safe canine sedation – A new veterinary drug discovery goes global

A new sedative product for dogs developed collaboratively by the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and a Finnish veterinary pharmaceutical company has received a marketing authorisation from the European Medicines Agency. In spring 2022 the authorisation was also received for the US market.

“After more than a decade of effort, our drug discovery is finally entering the market,” Professor Emerita Outi Vainio from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine says jubilantly.

Vatinoxan, a novel veterinary drug molecule, improves the safety of canine sedation by stabilising the cardiovascular function. It is used in combination with the sedative agent medetomidine, in a drug designed for canine sedation, which was in December 2021 granted a marketing authorisation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). In spring 2022 the drug also received a marketing authorisation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The combination was designed by a research group headed by Vainio at the Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki. The researchers found that vatinoxan alleviates the unwanted effects of certain sedative agents on the functioning of the heart and the circulatory system. The development of the drug was carried out in cooperation with Vetcare, a Finnish veterinary pharmaceutical company. The development of veterinary medicines at universities is rare, as usually such development efforts are carried out only by large pharmaceutical companies.

The veterinary drug discovery is the result of long-term goal-oriented work. The innovation originated in the literature-based idea, according to which vatinoxan, which had previously been studied in humans in the treatment of diabetes, could serve another purpose on the basis of its mechanism of action. Initially, vatinoxan was studied in sheep, but fairly quickly the research group turned its attention to dogs. New homes were successfully sought for the beagles used in the study.

Developing a new drug combination requires patience and solving of various fundamental issues.

“To begin with, we had nothing but a small amount of white powder, whose dissolution in liquid was the first thing to determine. Getting the dosage right was a research stage of its own,” Vainio says.

In 2008, the group published its first peer-reviewed article on the effects of vatinoxan. Subsequently, the group has produced a total of 11 doctoral theses on the topic, with a handful more currently in the pipeline.

The new drug enables safer care

The treatment of canine diseases is continually evolving and resembles human care in many ways. Many canine patients arriving to receive care are older and more seriously ill than before, placing increasingly stricter requirements on the safety of the sedatives used for these patients.

“We hope that the new drug will make the sedation and anaesthetising of dogs safer,” says Clinical Instructor Kati Salla, who wrote her doctoral thesis in the group.

“We will continue investigating the effects of vatinoxan and new indications for it in horses and other species besides dogs,” says Doctor Marja Raekallio, who will continue to lead the group.

News updated on 9 June 2022 to include the FDA marketing authorisation.