Researchers target multiple tumors in new cancer vaccine study

Targeting a variety of tumor types, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute has begun recruiting patients for an early-stage clinical trial to test an experimental cancer vaccine. The vaccine, or immunotherapy, is designed to lure the immune system's attacker T cells to tumor sites, and the researchers have a new trick up their sleeves to sustain the attack on cancers longer than similar past attempts.

Roswell Park aims to bring 18 to 20 patients into the Phase I study, and, as is typical of many early-stage cancer drug trials, the researchers are open to recruiting subjects with a variety of solid tumors--including those with lung, prostate, brain and breast cancers, according to the Buffalo, NY, institute. Patients are expected to get the cancer vaccine in combination with the drug rapamycin, an immune-suppressing drug often used to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs. In this trial, however, the researchers hope the drug prevents the immune system from attacking tumors with T cells all at once.

"We have shown for the first time that rapamycin has the capacity to produce immune cells that have memory attributes," Dr. Kunle Odunsi, director of RPCI's Center for Immunotherapy and the study's principal investigator, stated. "The immune cells are trained to live longer and to always remember that cancer cells are bad and should be attacked and killed."

The vaccine, developed at RPCI, is designed to target an antigen on tumors known as NY-ESO-1, and the plan is to only recruit those patients whose tumors expressed that antigen.

The institute is manufacturing the vaccine on its own and hasn't licensed rights to the experimental treatment. In 2010, Seattle-based Dendreon ($DNDN) became the first company to gain FDA approval for a cancer vaccine, and a number of other companies are in the chase to bring more of the therapies to market.

- here's the release