A Vast Horizon - Cancer Vaccines

Cancer vaccines being developed to treat a number of cancers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In 2010, the first cancer vaccine - Provenge (sipuleucel-T) - was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to treat metastatic prostate cancer. This type of treatment as spawned an entire new field.

A number of therapeutic cancer vaccines are currently being tested in clinical trials around the world to treat a variety of malignancies. 

"Find out if you qualify for a clinical trial testing cancer vaccines."

Jeffrey Schlom, Ph.D., of the Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology at the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute, has made a thorough review of the diverse number of vaccines being tested both in pre-clinical studies and randomized clinical trials.

dailyRx spoke with Schlom to find out what this means for patients. 

First he explained that these vaccines are being designed and developed to treat cancer. "They're not preventive as flu vaccines are."

He continued, "The vast majority of these the vaccines we developed are being used to treat solid tumors, such as prostate, breast and colorectal cancers - not leukemias and lymphomas."

When asked how they worked, Schlom told dailyRx, "The vaccines work with the body's own immune system and its ability to attack the cancer."

He says there are seven clinical trials under way, including a "global phase III trial for a vaccine to treat metastatic prostate cancer. There are also multi-centered trials for prostate and breast cancer vaccines."

Schlom says that the clinical trials are indicating that the vaccines work best in combination with conventional cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation. 

While the first vaccines were tested in individuals who had undergone a number of treatments, current trials suggest that the vaccines work better when there have been fewer chemotherapy treatments and longer intervals between the regimens.

"What we're seeing in this experimental work is that the vaccines make the chemotherapy and radiation more powerful - it's a synergistic effect," Schlom says.

One of the beauties of vaccines is that they have minimal toxic side effects, according to Schlom. "It's equivalent to what any type of vaccine might produce - swelling at the site or a slight fever the day it's given, but nothing like the toxicity of chemotherapy or radiation."

Furthermore, when combined with other treatments, the vaccines don't produce what Schlom describes as "compounded toxicity, so they improve quality of life."

The future for cancer vaccines is encouraging. "As new genes are identified to play a role in cancer, vaccines can be developed to help the body attack the cancer cells more vigorously," Schlom told dailyRx.

Schlom's review was published in the March 6, 2012 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 6, 2012
Last Updated:
March 6, 2012