Agenus brain cancer vaccine boosts survival in PhII trial

Patients with a lethal form of brain cancer lived nearly twice as long as expected after receiving Agenus' ($AGEN) Prophage vaccine in a Phase II study, according to the company.

Agenus' Prophage jab is an autologous cancer vaccine being investigated for glioblastoma multiforme, a fatal type of brain cancer that has a maximum overall survival of 15 months with treatment. Many patients die within a year after diagnosis, and only about 26% of patients make it to the two-year mark.

In a single-arm study of 46 patients, 50% of those newly diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme who received Agenus' Prophage in addition to the standard of care treatment lived for two years. Patients receiving Prophage survived for an average of 24 months, and 33% of patients remain alive at two years and continue to be followed for survival.

"Glioblastoma tumors are often resistant to standard therapies and the extended progression-free survival and proportion of long-term survivors is very encouraging," said Dr. Andrew Parsa, principal investigator of the study and the chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

Dr. Andrew Parsa, Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine

The standard treatment of care for glioblastoma includes resection surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy with Merck's ($MRK) Temodar. For recurrent tumors, patients have the option of Roche's ($RHHBY) Avastin, carmustine and other chemotherapy drugs used off-label.

These treatments only offer limited benefit in extending overall survival, leaving huge unmet need for better therapies.

Prophage is formulated by isolating tumor cells from individual patients, so that patients receive a vaccine prepared from their own surgically removed tumor. The individually tailored vaccine is thought to work by giving a patient's immune system the boost it needs to attack the tumor based on the variety of mutant proteins expressed by their own tumor.

Agenus reports that patients with less expression of the checkpoint ligand PDL-1 on the white blood cells seem to fair better with Prophage, suggesting that combinations of the vaccine with checkpoint modulators like PD-1 antagonists might make it even more effective in a greater proportion of patients with glioblastoma.

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