Anti-cancer vaccines seem to be a burgeoning field in immunology (for example, the HPV vaccine) and what's more, they seem to hold much promise. A recent clinical trial at UCSF Brain Tumor Research Center has tested a vaccine (vitespan, trademark Oncophage) to glioma, a tumor of glia cells in the nervous system which is always fatal. The vaccine is individually tailored to the patient: its made out of their own tumor.
All 12 patients had recurrent high-grade glioma, and all 12 showed an immune response, attacking the tumor, following administration of the vaccine. Patients who received the vaccine lived significantly longer that those who received standard treatment. After these encouraging results, a larger, multi-center Phase 2 study will happen later this year.
Derived from each individual's tumor, vitespen contains the "fingerprint" of the patient's particular cancer and is designed to reprogram the body's immune system to target only cancer cells bearing this fingerprint. The vaccine is intended to leave healthy tissue unaffected and limit the debilitating side effects typically associated with traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Vitespen has been granted fast-track and orphan drug designations from the Food and Drug Administration for both metastatic melanoma (skin cancer) and renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer).
High-grade glioma is a really nasty cancer: its fast-growing, very invasive, highly vascular, and undifferentiated (anaplastic). These tumors incur lots of necrosis of the brain tissue, leech blood from the brain, and can even break down the blood-brain barrier. High-grade gliomas almost always recur after being removed. The average survival time after diagnosis is 12 months and very few patients survive more than 3 years. Obviously, this vaccine fills a severely-needed medical niche.
Also, I gotta say, as far as silly pharmaceutical names go, Oncophage is a really cool one.
It's definitely true that most cancer vaccines have far fewer side effects.