New Cancer Vaccine Kills Lymphoma, Now in Phase III Clinical Trials

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Why fight cancer with chemotherapy or radiation when you can teach the immune system to do it for you? Sound far-fetched? In fact, cancer vaccines have already arrived. We’ve recently reported on Provenge, a new vaccine that rewires your body’s own defenses to wipe out prostate cancer. Now, Accentia Biopharmaceuticals and Biovest International have developed a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) vaccine that teaches the body’s immune system to identify and destroy tumor cells while leaving healthy tissue intact. The vaccine, called BiovaxID, is already in Phase III clinical trials.

The vaccine has already passed Phase I and II clinical trials with promising results: previous studies have shown that BiovaxID significantly increases both the time interval between relapses (44.2 months, as compared with 30.6 months in a placebo group) as well as patients’ overall survival rates. In some cases, the vaccine reportedly clears cancer completely from the body. Phase III trials have expanded the subject pool, and are currently studying the vaccine’s long-term effectiveness on 375 NHL patients. If all goes well, BiovaxID will then be passed on to the FDA for market approval.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is actually an umbrella term for 16 different types of blood cancer that show up in the lymphatic system. Every year, about 65,000 people are diagnosed with some form of NHL in the United States alone. BiovaxID is being developed and tested for follicular lymphoma, an indolent but ultimately fatal subtype of the disease that affects B-cells in the blood. The disease goes through periods of remission and relapse, with 90% of follicular lymphoma patients dying of the disease within 7 years of diagnosis. Current treatments involve a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and monoclonal antibodies. These therapies often show initial success, but fail in subsequent relapses as the cancer develops resistance.

So how does the vaccine work? Normally, NHL cancer cells are ignored by the immune system because their cell surfaces aren’t distinguished as abnormal when compared to healthy cells. Accentia takes cancer cell samples from an individual’s body and identifies a tumor-specific molecular marker (an antigen) along the cell surface. Next, they link up the cancerous cell with a protein molecule which makes it easier for the immune system to recognize the tumor-specific marker as foreign or undesirable. What results is a patient-specific vaccine, which teaches the body’s own immune system how to separate the good cells from the bad.

BiovaxID is a vaccine specifically tailored to the patient's particular lymphoma cells

But follicular lymphoma isn’t the only cancer type that Biovest and Accentia want to target. Last month at the Active Immunotherapeutics Forum, Accentia’s chief science officer Dr. Carlos Santos reported positive findings in Phase II clinical trials to treat mantle cell lymphoma. This subtype is particularly deadly, and carries a 36-month median survival rate. Early results show that after a average follow-up of 46 months, 89% of mantle cell lymphoma patients are still alive. Other B-cell lymphomas could also potentially be treated using the vaccine, including multiple myeloma and chronic lymophocytic leukemia. These subtypes also exhibit cell surface markers that can be exploited by the vaccine.

The patient-specific vaccines also represent another big step for personalized medicine.  We’ve recently covered the lung-on-a-chip that can be used for individualized drug testing, and back in January we hosted a booth at the Personalized Medicine Conference. As biotech becomes more individually tailored, treatments can be developed that fit case specifics instead of generalized trends, and that means better treatment all around.

Most of these vaccines will probably be used in combination with radiation and chemotherapy, as is currently the case in Phase III trials (the vaccine cleans up residual cancer cells following an initial chemo treatment). Still, the potential that a vaccine could eventually phase out chemo or radiation therapy is a pretty exciting prospect. As anyone familiar with these therapies knows, the treatment can often be worse than the disease. Vaccines that can destroy lymphoma without destroying healthy tissue will be welcome news to millions of cancer patients.

Here’s a quick video of Dr. Santos explaining BiovaxID and how it works:

[image credit: Biovest International]

Discussion — 15 Responses

  • The Avenger July 18, 2010 on 2:23 pm

    Are the survival rates the overall or the net survival rates?

    • The Avenger The Avenger July 18, 2010 on 2:28 pm

      The survival rates cited for mantle cell lymphoma, I mean.

  • The Avenger July 18, 2010 on 10:23 am

    Are the survival rates the overall or the net survival rates?

    • The Avenger The Avenger July 18, 2010 on 10:28 am

      The survival rates cited for mantle cell lymphoma, I mean.

    • Drew Halley The Avenger July 18, 2010 on 6:17 pm

      Net survival (or rather, the two figures are equal). The sample size (n) was only 26, meaning three patients died (all of which were disease-related).

      • The Avenger Drew Halley July 19, 2010 on 9:04 pm

        I see. Thanks!

  • MJ Adamucci July 18, 2010 on 2:55 pm

    I believe your stats for overall survival for
    follicular are incorrect (90% dying of the disease
    within 7 years). I am in remission 7 years after
    CHOP/R therapy, and I believe there are many others experiencing long remissions due to
    new therapies such as R (Rituxan). Follicular has a history of being chronic in nature, but does respond well to therapy. Check your
    stats again.

  • MJ Adamucci July 18, 2010 on 10:55 am

    I believe your stats for overall survival for
    follicular are incorrect (90% dying of the disease
    within 7 years). I am in remission 7 years after
    CHOP/R therapy, and I believe there are many others experiencing long remissions due to
    new therapies such as R (Rituxan). Follicular has a history of being chronic in nature, but does respond well to therapy. Check your
    stats again.

  • Ross July 18, 2010 on 5:21 pm

    Follicular lymphoma is not “ultimately fatal.” Yes it’s indolent and incurable but saying it’s ultimately fatal is saying that people with FL will die from it, when in fact it’s more common to die from something other than FL, something unrelated to cancer or its treatment.

  • Ross July 18, 2010 on 1:21 pm

    Follicular lymphoma is not “ultimately fatal.” Yes it’s indolent and incurable but saying it’s ultimately fatal is saying that people with FL will die from it, when in fact it’s more common to die from something other than FL, something unrelated to cancer or its treatment.

  • paul July 19, 2010 on 2:40 am

    Sounds very promising.

    Watch, now, as the FDA takes more than a year after the lengthy phase 3 trial to even consider approval, or gives the company an “approvable” letter asking for more information as patients suffer and die.

  • paul July 18, 2010 on 10:40 pm

    Sounds very promising.

    Watch, now, as the FDA takes more than a year after the lengthy phase 3 trial to even consider approval, or gives the company an “approvable” letter asking for more information as patients suffer and die.

  • The Avenger July 20, 2010 on 1:04 am

    I see. Thanks!

  • kirk December 15, 2010 on 3:40 pm

    Is there a way to get this vaccine for someone living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina?
    NHL B-cell, follicular, Grade 3
    in remission 3 yrs.
    68 yr old male