Vaccine for Late-Stage Cancer Fails

Lung cancer vaccine does not improve overall survival for patients with advanced disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Vaccines are showing promise as medication therapy for patients with advanced-stage lung cancer. A new vaccine, however, recently failed to extend the lives of certain cancer patients.

Vaccines are medications that boost the immune system's natural ability to protect the body. In recent years, drug manufacturers have been developing vaccines that may help patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) to live longer.

In a recent clinical trial, a vaccine in development called L-BLP25 (formerly known as Stimuvax) failed to improve survival of NSCLC patients.

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Dr. Annalisa Jenkins, Head of Global Drug Development and Medical for Merck Serono, collaborated with other researchers on patient trials of this “immunotherapy.”

In the study, patients with Stage III inoperable NSCLC were given an experimental vaccine. This investigational cancer immunotherapy (L-BLP25) is designed to stimulate the body's immune system so it will target a specific protein (MUC1) that is expressed in many types of cancer cells. The protein promotes tumor growth.

Participants in this study had responded favorably to at least two cycles of platinum-based chemoradiotherapy. The research involved more than 1,500 patients in 33 countries.

Patients were randomized to receive either a placebo or a single low dose of cyclophosphamide (an FDA-approved cancer inhibitor that goes by the names Clafen, Cytoxan or Neosar) followed by L-BLP25. Patients received weekly injections for eight weeks followed by injections every six weeks until the cancer progressed.

Detailed results from this trial were unavailable but will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal and for presentation at upcoming scientific meetings.

Despite not meeting the survival goal, investigators noted that positive treatment effects were seen in certain subgroups. Further research is planned in the coming weeks to explore the potential benefits and risks of L-BLP25 in certain populations.

"We believe that the study will offer important scientific insights to the potential for immunotherapies in the treatment of this devastating disease, and we intend to discuss these data with scientific community and regulatory authorities to gain their advice on potential next steps," said Dr. Jenkins.

In preliminary studies, other lung cancer vaccines, such as belagenpumatucel-L (Lucanix), have increased survival rates for NSCLC patients.

The National Cancer Institute says that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine called Provenge for certain men with metastatic prostate cancer.

The FDA has also approved vaccines against the hepatitis B virus, which can cause liver cancer, and vaccines against human papillomavirus types 16 and 18, which are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.

The press release from Oncothyreon, which developed L-BLP25, was issued on December 19. The trial was conducted by Merck Serono, a division of Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, under a license agreement with Oncothyreon. Oncothyreon is a biotechnology company specializing in the development of innovative therapeutic products for the treatment of cancer.

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Review Date: 
December 20, 2012
Last Updated:
December 27, 2012