- A custom-made vaccine created from a
patient,s own cancer tumor cells appears effective in prolonging the survival
of patients with malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of the skin cancer,
spread to two lymph node areas.
- David Berd, professor of medicine at
Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia
and a member of Jefferson,s Kimmel Cancer Center, and his colleagues had
previously proven the effectiveness of the vaccine in treating patients
with malignant melanoma. Now, the researchers treated a subset of the original
group of patients who had a particularly poor prognosis. Each had cancer
that had spread to two lymph node areas, and each had surgery to remove
the visible disease. The patients were then given the vaccine. According
to Dr. Berd, 39 percent are estimated to live three years. In general,
he says, only some 5 to 15 percent of such patients are cured by surgery
- In 15 patients with melanoma spread to
the pelvic lymph nodes, 47 percent are estimated to live five-years. The
usual surgical cure rate is only 5 to 10 percent.
- "Now we,re looking at a group of
patients with a particularly bad prognosis, and our results strengthen
the evidence that the vaccine is therapeutic in a critical situation,"
says Dr. Berd.
- He reports his results April 13 at the
American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Philadelphia.
- The vaccine is termed autologous, meaning
that it,s prepared from a patient,s own cancer cells. Before injecting
the cells into patients, the cells are inactivated and treated with a chemical,
dinitrophenyl (DNP), which chemically modifies them. The modified cells
appear foreign enough to the body,s immune system for it to react against
- In the June 1997 issue of the Journal
of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Berd reported the results of treatments on patients
with melanoma spread to a single lymph node site (stage III disease). The
vaccine treatments were started after the lymph nodes had been removed.
Of 62 patients, 36 were still alive after a median follow-up time of 55
months. The projected 5-year relapse-free and overall survival rates for
these patients were 45 percent and 58 percent respectively. This compares
favorably with the 15- to 25-percent survival rates reported in patients
treated with surgery alone.
- Dr. Berd and his colleagues currently
are participating in a Phase III trial to test the effectiveness of the
vaccine on patients with disease that has spread to the lymph nodes. AVAX
Technologies, Inc., of Kansas City, MOwhich has exclusive rights to the
Jefferson-based vaccine against malignant melanomasponsors the trial. AVAX
is building a new vaccine laboratory and manufacturing facility in Philadelphia
to increase quantities of the vaccine for future testing and use. The five-year
randomized trial, already underway, will compare the effectiveness of an
autologous melanoma vaccine to the standard treatment, which is alpha interferon.
The trial involves 400 patients seen at institutions in several major cities.
If the trial is successful, then AVAX will ask the FDA for approval to
allow it to market the vaccine.
- Malignant melanoma is the fastest growing
cancer in the United States and is the fifth most common cancer among Americans.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 40,000 new cases will
be diagnosed in 1999; more than 7,000 Americans will die from the disease.
- Editor's Note: The original news release
can be found at http://www.jeffersonhealth.org/news/1999/0413a99.html Note:
This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Jefferson Medical
College, Thomas Jefferson University for journalists and other members
of the public. If you wish to quote from any part of this story, please
credit Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University as the
original source. You may also wish to include the following link in any