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Military researchers have developed a cancer vaccine that is cutting recurrence rates in cancer survivors in half, according to American Forces Press Service. The vaccine, dubbed E-75, targets a protein commonly over-expressed in breast cancer cells called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or HER2/neu.
“The idea is to train the immune system to recognise that protein or piece of protein that’s highly expressed on cancer cells, but not on normal cells,” said Army Colonel George E. Peoples, director and principal investigator for the Cancer Vaccine Development Program at the San Antonio Military Medical centre. “That way the immune system can differentiate what’s abnormal and normal. If the immune system can recognise it, it marks it for death, basically.”
People’s team took a unique approach to developing their version of a cancer vaccine by testing its effectiveness on cancer survivors, who are currently disease free but are at risk for recurrence. Most often cancer vaccines are tested on end-stage cancer patients. Peoples pointed out that it’s not surprising that the vaccines have not been found helpful in these cases seeing as a vaccine is supposed to stimulate the immune system and a healthy immune system is not found in end-stage patients.
The outcome of the 200-patient trial that started in 2001 is very promising, said Peoples. The cancer survivors, who received an injection once a month for six months, saw a recurrence rate of 10% as compared to 20% recurrence rate in the control group.
Breast Cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer among patients at the centre. “The military is an ideal setting for clinical trials,” said Peoples. He noted that service members, retirees and family members have a strong sense of service, and willingly participate in the trials knowing that they might be in the control group.
Galena Biopharma, a recent spin off of RXi Pharmaceuticals that focuses on targeted cancer therapies, will undertake the next phase of testing, seeking FDA approval and commercializing the drug for public use. Peoples expects this to take about five years – two years for trial enrollment followed by a three year observation period.