to be found presenting his research at
a global conference as he is to be treating dogs such as Da Vinci, a 12-year-old
hound mix su;ering from a type of blood
vessel cancer, at the Regional Veterinary
Referral Center in Springfield, Virginia.
As the chief science o;cer for Ethos Vet,
Khanna treats ill canines with experimental small molecule inhibitors and
immunotherapies through a network of
North American veterinary hospitals.
His ultimate goal is to improve cancer
treatments for people.
Khanna, 51, a Chevy Chase resident
and a dog owner, emphasizes that his
patients are beloved pets with naturally occurring cancers, not animals
infected with a disease for the purpose
of scientific research. His work, however,
troubles some animal rights activists and
some cancer researchers who want more
resources devoted to human studies. But
even immunologist Jim Allison, who
shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his advances
in immunotherapy, has acknowledged
that results from treating dogs “could be
useful” because the canine genome is so
“For almost every cancer that occurs
in a human…there is a version that
occurs in the dog,” Khanna says.
Khanna, a Canadian and American
dual citizen, earned his doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of
Saskatchewan in Canada. A residency
at the University of Minnesota introduced him to the world of comparative
oncology—studying cancer in animals
to better understand the disease in
humans—and he went on to earn a Ph.D.
in pathobiology at the university.
“Before my residency, I had never
even thought of becoming a research
veterinarian,” he says.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1997, he got a job
at NIH and was soon running the comparative oncology program while also
moonlighting as a local veterinarian.
In 2015, Khanna gave up his NIH post
to spend more time collaborating with
global researchers and the pharmaceutical community on cancer treatments.
When Khanna asks dog owners to
consider using a trial drug to treat their
pets, he explains that most human
patients receive trial drugs as a last resort
after previously proven treatments fail.
By that time, the body is already weakened, and cancer cells may have already
been mutated by chemotherapy and/or
But when Khanna treats a dog with
cancer, he has the option of prescribing
a new drug first, and tracking a genuine response to the new treatment. ;e
most promising trial he’s working on
now—in collaboration with an Israeli
startup—seeks to stop the recurrence and
metastasis of osteosarcomas, common
pediatric tumors. He’s hoping that within
a year or two he’ll have enough data to
prove the drug works. In a human trial,
the same study could take longer, he says.
Despite his world-renowned stature in comparative oncology, Khanna’s
medical expertise no longer holds much
weight in the home he shares with his
wife, Kristen, and two teenage children
after he misdiagnosed oral cancer in one
of the family’s dogs several years ago.
“My first reaction was, ‘OK, she needs a
biopsy,’ ” Khanna recalls.
His wife was skeptical and took the
dog to her own vet, who diagnosed an
easily treatable tooth infection. “;at
was it,” Khanna says, cracking a smile.
“Now she doesn’t let me even cut our
dog’s nails.” n
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