New Hope for Treatment of FIP

Published July 2011

On June 2011, the 33rd Annual Symposium on Feline Health sponsored by The Winn Feline Foundation was held in Reston, Virginia, USA.

This year's theme, "WINNing the FIP Fight", featured presentations by two renowned veterinarian researchers. The first speaker was Alfred Legendre, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, from the University of Tennessee, discussing "Preliminary findings of polyprenyl immunostimulant treatment of dry FIP".

The second featured speaker was Niels C. Pedersen, University of California, Davis with his topic "An update on feline infectious peritonitis research" .

Both researchers are working on new treatments against Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) Dr. Legendre is working on a drug therapy, while Dr. Pedersen is targeting a genetic solution to FIP.


Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is arguably the disease that most frightens cat breeders because there is no cure. Once clinical signs occur, FIP has long been considered fatal. FIP usually occurs in kittens or young adults.

Since FIP was first identified in 1963, there had been little real progress made in understanding the disease until relatively recently decade. In the past decade, advancements have finally been made in understanding the concepts of pathogenesis, treatment, viral mutations, and host genetic susceptibility with regard to FIP.

Dr. Al Legendre's Research

Dr. Al Legendre conducted a trial using Polyprenyl Immunostimulant (PI) to treat cats diagnosed with the dry (non-effusive) form of FIP. While the drug is not a cure for dry FIP, it seems to enhance quality of life for the affected cats and may potentially add months or maybe even years to the feline patient's life span.

Polyprenyl Immunostimulant (PI) was originally developed to treat cats with feline herpes virus (rhinotracheitis). Then in 2010, the Winn Feline Foundation funded a trial which initially included 102 cats, to study the use of PI in the treatment of cats with dry FIP. At present, the median survival rate of cats on PI is 49 days, with that number increasing daily since many cats in the study are still alive and seemingly well.

No drug has been discovered that has an impact on wet (effusive) FIP

Many cats in the trial who were doing poorly, became nearly symptom-free. One cat from an earlier study is now five years post-treatment. Typically, cats with dry FIP rarely survive five years.

Naturally, any optimism must be balanced by the knowledge that even untreated cats with dry FIP may survive for months and years, so it is difficult to quantify the effects of the PI treatment. Not all cats with dry FIP thrive after receiving PI. Some who do seem to thrive initially may 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.

He believes that any new treatment for FIP likely won't be a vaccine. He said the FIP vaccine is safe but doesn't work. A medication or cocktail of meds such as PI with an anti-viral drug could be possible a solution.

PI is expected to be available to veterinarians within the next several months,
initially labeled for use against feline herpes virus.

Dr. Niels Pedersen's Research

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

Peterson started his discussion by saying "FIP is the most complicated disease I have personally studied. We now understand that far more cats are likely infected with the feline infectious peritonitis virus than ultimately die. 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 a potentially fatal virus. However, only two to five percent of those cats actually get sick, ultimately dying of FIP.

"Presumably the remaining 15 to18 percent manage to mount an effective immune response to the virus," he said. Pedersen wants to discover what's it is 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.

Pedersen doesn't believe corona virus-free catteries
or animal shelters are realistically do-able


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