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Donations revive Japan drug project aimed to help cats live longer

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A cat plays in a box.

Cat lovers might soon have a remedy on hand to keep their furry friends with them longer.

The University of Tokyo is leading efforts to start clinical trials next spring for a drug to treat chronic kidney disease in cats, a common ailment in domesticated felines.

Some cats begin to show abnormal kidney function around the age of 5. The disease can lead to death and currently, there is no effective treatment.

The development of the drug was forced to be suspended when a partner company decided not to invest in the project amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the project’s situation was reported online this July, the university was flooded with donations from cat lovers and other concerned members of the public.

By the end of October, the university had received more than ¥220 million in donations for the project.

The funds are expected to be used for basic research on the drug’s development.

“The support and donations from regular people have given us strength,” said Prof. Toru Miyazaki, a specialist in immunology at the University of Tokyo. “We want to make this project a success.”

A domestic pharmaceutical company has also come forward to support the project.

In 2016, a team of researchers led by Miyazaki found that the protein AIM (apoptosis inhibitor of macrophage), which is needed to remove waste products that accumulate in kidneys, does not work well in cats. So the team has been cultivating artificial AIM to give it to cats as a drug to reduce the progression of kidney disease.

In the clinical trials, estimated to cost ¥1 billion to ¥2 billion, cats will be split into two groups with at least 30 cats each, one group receiving AIM and the other a placebo.

The results are expected to be available about a year after the start of the trials.

The team then hopes to receive approval for the drug as a treatment for cats from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.