Oct. 4, 2010 -- A new vaccine for a deadly brain cancer known as glioblastoma doubled the survival time of patients, researchers from Duke University report.
Unlike other vaccines given to prevent disease, ''this vaccine is given when patients get the cancer," says researcher John Sampson, MD, PhD, the Robert H. and Gloria Wilkins Professor of Neurosurgery at Duke University Medical Center. In the future, however, he says, "it's conceivable a vaccine like this would be used to prevent [the cancer]."
The new vaccine, he says, "seems to be twice as good as the standard therapy alone." The results of the study are published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Up to 20,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year with glioblastoma, Sampson says. "It's the most deadly form of brain cancer. The average survival after diagnosis is a little more than a year. It hits people in their prime, such as a 50-year-old executive."
Treatment includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, Sampson says, but even with the comprehensive therapy, the prognosis is bleak.
Sampson and other experts know that about one-third of all glioblastomas are fueled by a mutated protein on the tumor cell, called EGFRvIII (epidermal growth factor receptor variant III). EGFRvIII leads the cancer cells to grow out of control quickly.
''The vaccine creates antibodies specially programmed to attack this mutated protein on the tumor cell," Sampson says.
For the study, Sampson and his colleagues from Duke and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston enrolled 35 glioblastoma patients and divided them into two groups -- a vaccine group and a non-vaccine group.
Both groups got standard care -- surgery, radiation, and the chemotherapy drug temozolomide.
But those in the vaccine group also received injections of the vaccine a month after completing radiation, staying on the vaccine monthly for as long as it seemed to be working.
The addition of the vaccine lengthened the median survival time (half lived longer, half not as long) from the expected 15 months to 26 months.
Those who got the vaccine had a progression-free survival of 14.2 months, while those who didn't had a 6.3-month progression-free survival.