UH News

Results of Brain Cancer Treatment Vaccine Continue to be Promising

Thursday, April 19, 2012

UH Case Medical Center one of three U.S. sites for clinical trial

University Hospitals Case Medical Center is playing a large role in improving treatment options for people with recurring glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most devastating types of cancerous brain tumors. The results of a Phase 2 clinical trial that tested a new brain cancer vaccine were announced April 17, 2012 at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons' (AANS) annual meeting in Miami.

The brain cancer vaccine is tailored to individual patients by using material from their own tumors. It has proven effective in the clinical trial by extending their lives by several months or longer.

More than two years ago, UH Seidman Cancer Center, along with University of California, San Francisco’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, launched its clinical trial on the vaccine. The trial enrolled more than 40 patients, including 10 at UH, where the trial is led by Andrew Sloan, MD, Director of the Brain Tumor and Neuro-oncology Center.

The trial found the vaccine could extend survival for the patients by several months when compared to 80 other patients who were treated at the same hospitals and received standard therapy—47 weeks compared to 32 weeks. Several of the patients who received the cancer vaccine have survived for more than a year.

What makes this vaccine different from other vaccines developed for brain-tumor patients is that this is one of the few immune therapies designed specifically for patients who are not newly diagnosed.

“What makes it exciting is that this is based on the patient's own immune system,” Dr. Sloan said.

It’s something that has given physicians a lot of hope. The vaccine isolates something called heat shock protein (HSP), which is part of the immune system. HSP isolates molecules that do not belong, and alerts the immune system to attack, Dr. Sloan said.

The HSP from the patient's own tumor is then re-injected into the skin with an adjuvant, or an agent added to a drug to increase its effect.

“So we take the patient's tumor out, and make a heat shock protein vaccine, and that vaccine can then prevent the tumor from coming back,” Dr. Sloan said.

“These results are provocative,” said UCSF neurosurgeon Andrew Parsa, MD, PhD, who designed the vaccine and presented the findings. “They suggest that doctors may be able to extend survival even longer by combining the vaccine with other drugs that enhance this immune response.”

The next step, Dr. Parsa said, will be a more extensive, randomized clinical trial to look at the effectiveness of the vaccine combined with the drug Avastin, a standard therapy for this type of cancer, compared to the effectiveness of Avastin alone. Those trials, to be run by the National Cancer Institute, will begin enrolling patients later this year.

Part of the funding for the Phase 2 trial came though a $1.5 million-a-year grant to UCSF from the National Cancer Institute — called Brain Tumor SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence). The trial also was partially paid for with funds provided by the patient advocacy groups American Brain Tumor Association, Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure and the National Brain Tumor Society.

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