Vaccine boosts survival in brain cancer patients

The brain cancer vaccine that extended the life of the late Dr. Samuel Hassenbusch has performed well in another clinical trial.

Thanks to the vaccine, Hassenbusch was able to keep competing in Houston’s annual 5K Run for the Rose.

Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Duke University reported this week that glioblastoma patients treated with a therapeutic vaccine after standard therapy lived nearly twice as long as those who received only radiation and chemotherapy. The 18 patients who received the vaccine lived an average of 26 months, compared to 15 months for 17 patients who got only the standard therapy.

Glioblastoma multiforme is the most deadly brain cancer, killing most patients, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy among them, in a little over a year. It is diagnosed in more than 10,000 people in the United States annually.

Hassenbusch, an M.D. Anderson neurosurgeon, operated on more than 500 brain cancer patients before he was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2005, a shocking development at the Houston hospital. He took chemotherapy and the then-new vaccine together, a never before employed strategy, and responded so well that he was soon back treating patients. Sadly, the tumor returned in 2007 and claimed his life in 2008.

His experience with the vaccine made him the first patient in a study conducted by M.D. Anderson and Duke researchers published later in 2008. That study, which tracked patients receiving the vaccine and chemotherapy concurrently, found those getting the highest dose of chemotherapy had the strongest response, a surprise given the two therapies are usually considered incompatible. The new study gave the vaccine a month after the finish of standard therapy.

The new trial results are the latest strong showing by a cancer vaccine, also known as immunotherapy, which differs from traditional vaccines in that it aims not to prevent cancer but rather enlist the body’s immune system to fight tumors after they’ve begun growing. Vaccine success in trials with lymphoma and melanoma patients caused a buzz at a major cancer conference last year, and earlier this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first such vaccine — Provenge, for prostate cancer.

The new paper, published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is dedicated to Hassenbusch. The paper is by paid subscription only, but you can read the abstract here and M.D. Anderson’s press release here.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 at 11:52 am and is filed under Health Notes. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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