Jefferson Medical College researchers have created what they believe may prove to be an effective ovarian cancer vaccine made from a patients own cancer cells. After testing the vaccine on 11 patients, each with advanced disease, the scientists are encouraged after seeing an initial immune reaction. That tells them that the vaccine is effectively stimulating the immune system into action.
Charles J. Dunton, md, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the division of gynecologic oncology, and David Berd, md, professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, presented the teams results on February 9th at the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists' meeting in Orlando.
Whether or not the vaccine ultimately proves to be an effective treatment against ovarian cancer has yet to be determined. We looked for an immune reaction, with the idea that such a reaction might mean the vaccine would prove potentially beneficial, notes Dr. Dunton, who is also a member of Jeffersons Kimmel Cancer Center. To our surprise, a majority of the patients developed an immune response to their own ovarian cancer cells after receiving the vaccine.
Vaccine Custom-Made for Each Patient
Coauthor David Berd, md, professor of medicine at Jeffersons Kimmel Cancer Center, created the vaccine technology. The current vaccine is autologous, meaning that it is prepared from a patients own cancer cells. Each vaccine is custom-made for the patient. Before injecting the cells into patients, the cells are inactivated and treated with a chemical, dinitrophenyl, which chemically modifies them. The modified cells apparently appear foreign to the bodys immune system, causing a reaction against them.
The treatment has been safe in this initial group of patients, with no significant side effects noted, Dr. Dunton says. The next step in the research, he notes, is a randomized clinical trial with many more ovarian cancer patients to compare standard surgery and chemotherapy to standard treatment plus the vaccine.
Other Autologous Vaccines to Be Tested
AVAX Technologies, Inc., of Kansas City, Missouri, is currently developing a phase III trial to test the effectiveness of an autologous malignant melanoma vaccine in patients with disease that has spread to the lymph nodes. The 5-year trial will compare the effectiveness of the melanoma vaccine to the standard treatment, which interferon-alfa (Intron A, Roferon-A). The trial will involve 250 patients seen at institutions in several major cities.
The scientists explain that many laboratories are working on generic cancer vaccines, but few have attempted to use autologous vaccines because of the technical difficulty involved in producing a vaccine for each individual patient. We expect to show that our autologous cancer vaccine is not only effective, but also practical and applicable to large numbers of patients at sites throughout the country, Dr. Berd says.
Jefferson Medical College is also home to a unique cancer vaccine-processing facility. IAVAX, which has exclusive rights to the Jefferson-based vaccine against malignant melanoma and other cancers, has built the vaccine laboratory to increase quantities of the vaccine for future testing and use. The laboratory is a so-called clean laboratory, which means that it meets strict FDA standards.