FDA OKs Provenge for Prostate Cancer Therapy
'Vaccine' Is an Immune Therapy That Treats Advanced Prostate Cancer
WebMD News Archive
How Provenge Works
Once a cancer grows beyond a certain point, the immune system has a hard
time fighting it. One reason is that cancer cells look a lot to the immune
system like normal cells. Another reason is that tumors may give off signals
that manipulate the immune system into leaving them alone.
Provenge bypasses these problems. The treatment first removes a quantity of
dendritic cells from a patient's blood. Dendritic cells are antigen-presenting
cells -- that is, they show pieces of an offending microbe or tumor to immune
cells, priming them to attack cells that carry those pieces (antigens).
The patient's doctor ships the cells to Dendreon, which then exposes them to
Provenge. Provenge is a molecule made inside genetically engineered insect
cells. The molecule marries prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) -- a marker found
on nearly all prostate cancer cells -- to an immune-stimulating factor called
Once these cells have been exposed to the Provenge molecule, they're shipped
back to the doctor who infuses them back into the patient. This is done three
times in one month. The first infusion primes the immune system. The second and
third doses spur an anticancer immune response.
The treatment is not without side effects. Nearly all patients suffer some
mild to moderate adverse reactions such as chills, fatigue, fever, back
pain, nausea, joint ache, and headache.
But so far, Provenge has been remarkably safe. However, clinical trials
suggested the treatment might be linked to a slightly increased risk of stroke. Treated patients will be
closely monitored to see if this risk is real.