A personalized vaccine helps patients fight back against ovarian cancer
In early research that extends the possibilities of immunotherapy to a killer feared by women, a personalized vaccine helped patients with ovarian cancer mount a stronger defense against their tumors and substantially improved their survival rate.
The vaccine was tested in a preliminary clinical trial and used along with standard chemotherapy and an immune-boosting agent.
The experimental therapy, described in the journal Science Translational Medicine, weaves together a number of approaches that are collectively driving innovations in cancer treatment.
Because the treatment uses the patient’s immune cells as a sort of T-cell training force, it is an immunotherapy.
Because it uses the distinctive proteins on a patient’s own tumor as homing beacons, it is a targeted therapy.
And because a patient’s own cells are harvested and returned to her, it is personalized therapy.
Rather than round up a patient’s T cells and re-engineer them in a lab to find cancer (the service provided by the new leukemia immunotherapy drug Kymriah), this treatment harvests a class of immune “helpers” called dendritic cells. Using ground-up cells from a patient’s tumor, researchers trained the dendritic cells to recognize and attack that specific malignancy. When these fortified cells were reintroduced into the patient, they passed on their training to the immune system’s army of killer T cells and sent them into battle.
Among 10 women with advanced ovarian cancer who got injections of the personalized vaccine once every three weeks — along with the medications cyclophosphamide and bevacizumab (marketed as Avastin) — eight showed a strong immune response and were still alive after two years.
In a comparison group of 56 patients that got standard chemotherapy alone, only half were still alive at the two-year mark.