About 35% of non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLC) have this protein, which is
also present in some melanomas and head and neck cancers.
In a trial of early-stage lung cancer patients whose tumors expressed
MAGE-A3, treatment with the vaccine was shown to reduce the risk of relapse
Long-term follow-up results from the early trial of the immunotherapy were
presented at the 1st European Lung Cancer conference in Geneva,
"The principle behind this approach has potential for many different
types of cancer," researcher Johan Vansteenkiste, MD, PhD, tells WebMD.
"The principle is that you teach the patient's immune system to eliminate
cancer cells that express certain proteins."
The vaccine therapy has not been compared head-to-head with chemotherapy,
which is often given to surgically treated lung cancer patients to reduce their
risk of relapse.
But Vansteenkiste says the immunotherapy-treated patients in the phase II
study had outcomes similar to those seen among chemotherapy-treated patients,
with almost no side effects.
"Many surgically treated lung cancer patients are not able to tolerate
the side effects of chemotherapy, either because of their age or because of
other health issues," he says. "This approach is a promising
A total of 182 patients with NSCLC were included in the early study,
sponsored by drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, which is developing the vaccine
therapy. All the patients had cancers that expressed MAGE-A3.
After having surgery to remove their tumors, 122 patients were randomly
assigned to treatment with the MAGE-A3-targeting vaccine and 60 patients got
The patients were given five injections every three weeks at the beginning
of treatment and then eight injections every three months later on for a total
of 27 months, Vansteenkiste says.
After 44 months of follow-up, 69 of the 182 patients had cancer recurrences,
including 57 deaths. The researchers report that the treatment was
well-tolerated. The MAGE-A3-treated patients seemed less likely to have
recurrences and die from their disease than the placebo-treated patients,
although this is being further evaluated in an ongoing phase III study for
Immunotherapy vs. Chemotherapy
This year in the U.S., 215,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed
and close to 162,000 people will die from the disease, according to National
Cancer Institute projections.
Surgery is the standard treatment for patients with early-stage disease, but
about 50% of patients who have surgery end up dying of their lung cancer,
He says adding chemotherapy to surgery boosts the survival rate by about
10%, a rate similar to that seen in the MAGE-A3 trial.