A Rochester start-up is making headway on its goal of using gene editing to treat a devastating cancer in dogs, while developing data to apply toward human cancer research.

Life Engine Animal Health or LEAH Labs, led by CEO and co-founder Wes Wierson, has been busy. The company uses gene editing techniques developed by Wierson at Iowa State University with Mayo Clinic support. LEAH Labs licensed the research from Mayo Clinic.

LEAH Labs' goal is to use its non-viral CAR T cell cancer therapy to create a treatment for B cell lymphoma cancer in dogs. That type of cancer is comparable to Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in humans and kills an estimated 300,000 dogs every year.

Wierson believes LEAH Labs’ treatment could substantially extend the life of a dog with B cell lymphoma for years and possibly even cure the cancer.

Wes Wierson
Wes WiersonSubmitted

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Much of 2020 was occupied with raising $1.3 million through crowdsourcing, Angel investors and state economic development grants.

The big milestone happened in March 2021, when a safety study of the treatment was conducted on experimental lab dogs. That study proved the treatment is safe for use on dogs.

That clears the way for LEAH Labs to conduct a pilot study of the treatment on dogs that actually have B cell lymphoma cancer.

“Now working with veterinary partners, we can try this on people’s pets,” said Wierson.

The hope is to conduct the pet dog tests at the University of Iowa State in the third or fourth quarter of 2021.

Meanwhile, LEAH Labs continues to grow in Rochester with the recent hiring of Alex Able as the vice president of cell biology. Wierson says no matter what happens in the future, he hopes to keep LEAH Labs based in Rochester or at least in Minnesota’s Medical Alley area.

The start-up is based in Mayo Clinic’s accelerator, The Hatchery, which is lab space in the Minnesota Biobusiness Center. The Hatchery is under the Mayo Clinic Office of Entrepreneurship, which is led by Dr. Stephen Ekker. Ekker is also a co-founder of LEAH Labs.

To keep the company fueled as it develops the canine cancer treatment, LEAH Labs is conducting another crowdsourced investment funding campaign on the WeFunder platform.

Wierson is optimistic about what LEAH Labs can accomplish in improving the treatment of dogs plus helping to map the way toward working with people. Dogs and humans share 85 percent of the same genes.

The two species are much closer than the traditional lab mouse, so the research with dogs is more likely to move the search for cancer treatments or even cures for humans forward.