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Clinical Trial Shows Brain Cancer Vaccine Extends Lives

Brain scan (National Institute of Mental Health)

(National Institute of Mental Health)

A clinical trial involving researchers from University of California at San Francisco and the biotechnology company Agenus Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts found a vaccine has extended the lives of patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain cancer. The findings are being presented today at a meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

The phase 2 trial is testing the safety and immune response of a heat shock protein peptide-complex (HSPPC-96) vaccine in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma multiforme. The patients are given the drug once weekly for four consecutive weeks and monthly following standard treatment with radiation and and the chemotherapy drug temozolomide.

Earlier experience with glioblastoma vaccines had limited success because they did not produce effective immune responses. The vaccines either did not kill all of the tumor cells or they worked on some patients but not on others. The new vaccine is the result of several brain cancer advocacy groups that pooled their resources and requested proposals for new ways to fight recurrent glioblastoma.

UCSF’s Andrew Parsa and colleagues proposed a new type of cancer vaccine based on molecular bundles called heat shock proteins. These molecules are recovered from tumors surgically removed from patients in the trial. Agenus prepares a vaccine configured specifically for each patient and ships the vaccine back to the doctors who then inject it into the patient’s arm several times over the course of the year.

The trial was funded by by the National Cancer Institute, as well as the patient advocacy organizations: American Brain Tumor Association, Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, and the National Brain Tumor Society. Parsa has not received any personal financial support, consulting fees, or travel expense reimbursement for this work from Agenus, nor does the university have any financial interest in the company.

The results show the vaccine could extend survival for the patients who received HSPPC-96 plus standard treatments by several months when compared to 80 other patients who were treated at the same hospitals and received standard therapy alone — 47 weeks compared to 32 weeks. Several of the patients who received the cancer vaccine have survived for more than a year.

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

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