Imagine the huge smiles on the faces of executives and scientists at Dendreon Corp as their stock soared more than 130% yesterday! What’s all the excitement about? In a unique approach that may have far reaching applications for fighting multiple types of cancers and diseases, the company announced success with a treatment that enlists the body’s own immune system as an army to seek out and destroy deadly prostate cancer cells.
Unique identifiers called antigens on the surface of bacteria and viruses are used by your body’s immune system to quickly identify and destroy foreign invaders on a daily basis. The magic of Dendreon’s therapy is that they seem to have figured out a way to teach the immune system to recognize the unique antigens sitting on the surface of a patient’s own prostate cancer cells. Consequently, deadly cancer cells can be identified and destroyed by the body’s immune system just like any other foreign enemy.
In its simplest form cancer is a group of cells that continuously multiply and grow in your body, but remain in one place. This form is easiest to treat because you can literally cut the lump of cancer out with surgery.
Cancer becomes really nasty and deadly, however, when it metastasizes. This means that cancerous cells have split off from the original cancer, hopped onboard the body’s bloodstream superhighway, and spread throughout the body. The result is dozens or even thousands of deadly cancer growths sprouting up in every conceivable part of your body. It is at this point that prostate cancer and other cancers become virtually untreatable, having initiated a guerilla attack on every part of your body at the cellular level that is impossible to fight with our macroscopic scalpels.
Enter Provenge, Dendreon’s answer to metastasized prostate cancer that is giving patients a fighting chance with a sort of hand to hand combat at the cellular level. Dendreon’s Provenge cancer therapy trains the body’s immune system to identify the unique surface of individual prostate cancer cells anywhere in the body and destroy them.
Based on the preliminary results announced in a recently completed 512 person trial, Dendreon is hoping to move full speed ahead with commercializing Provenge within the next year. Sadly the results are severely lacking in details, but Dendreon plans to announce the fully detailed results of the trial April 28 at a meeting of the American Urological Association. In the meantime, it is not clear whether the treatment cured patients or simply prolonged their life expectancies. Either way, if Dendreon can confirm these results on April 28 it appears that the company has made a serious advance in the fight against metastatic prostate cancer.
Although for the moment the treatment is specific only to prostate cancer, Dendreon’s success opens the exciting possibility that the same technique may be effective against a number of other cancers such as breast and colon cancer. Indeed the company hopes to expand the scope of this therapy to other types of cancers with intense research in the coming years.
Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States and the third most common cancer worldwide. More than one million men in the United States have prostate cancer, and nearly 30,000 of them die from the disease each year. Until now there has been virtually no treatment for men with advanced, metastatic prostate cancer.
Dendreon has a controversial and turbulent history. There are many sources out there to learn more, including this article at the New York Times.