Tumor Vaccine Mops Up Lung Cancer
Vaccine Sics Immune System on Metastatic Cancers
Feb. 13, 2003 -- Vaccines made from patients' own tumors are
safe and seem to work in early human tests. Future enhancements promise to make
this a powerful new treatment for deadly cancers.
One reason tumors grow out of control is that T-cells -- which
orchestrate immune system attacks -- ignore them. But it's possible to get
their attention, say Glenn Dranoff, MD, and colleagues at Boston's Dana Farber
Cancer Institute. Dranoff's team developed a vaccine that tells T-cells to
In a pilot study, the researchers treated 35 patients whose
non-small-cell lung cancers were spreading despite chemotherapy and/or
radiation therapy. Tumors removed from their lungs during surgery were ground
up into individual cells. The cells were then bioengineered to make a T-cell
alerting chemical signal. Patients got injections of this vaccine once or twice
"This is the first concerted effort to make vaccines
against lung cancer," Dranoff tells WebMD. "This initial phase I study
shows the approach is feasible. It does involve making patient-specific
vaccines. And it is very well tolerated. In contrast to conventional treatments
for cancer, there were only very minor reactions. This study shows that the
immune response against lung-cancer cells can be improved through a vaccine
strategy. And there is the suggestion of some encouraging clinical findings in
a minority of patients."
Encouraging indeed. For two patients, surgery successfully
removed their lung tumors. More than three and a half years after vaccine
treatment, they remain cancer free. Five other patients had stable disease for
33, 19, 12, 10, and three months after vaccine treatment. Antitumor immune
responses were seen in 18 of 22 patients. Nine of the patients had to leave the
study early because of rapid disease progression.
Cell Genesys Inc., in Foster City, Calif., is developing the
vaccine as a cancer treatment. The company is sponsoring phase II
safety/efficacy clinical trials.
"As a single agent, this approach would be potentially much
more useful in patients in the early stages of lung cancer," Dranoff notes.
"It might be considered for testing in lung-cancer patients after their
original tumor is removed. In the setting of advanced disease, we are going to
examine vaccination in combination with other treatments."
The study findings impress immunologist Cassian Yee, MD, of
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. And he knows what he's
talking about. Yee's team is using T-cell therapy to halt cancer growth in
patients with advanced melanoma. Last year, they reported that eight of 10
patients responded favorably to the treatment. Tumors stopped growing for up to
a year in five of the patients; three patients had their tumors shrink.
"The Dranoff study is really good proof of principle that
immune therapies can be translated from interesting lab findings into the
treatment of patients," Yee tells WebMD. "This is not something that
patients with lung cancer can receive immediately. Right now it takes quite a
lot of lab work to modify the tumor cells for an individualized vaccine. We may
in the future see several developments that will allow this to be used to treat
The Dranoff study appears in the Feb. 15 issue of the
Journal of Clinical Oncology.