The world’s first vaccine to treat deadly cancerous brain tumors can potentially give patients extra years of life, a global clinical trial has concluded.
A senior NHS doctor who was one of the trial’s chief investigators said evidence showed DCVax led to an “astonishing” improvement in patient survival.
The breakthrough could benefit the 2,500 people a year in the UK who are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer and also one of the most aggressive. People with the disease live on average only 12 to 18 months after diagnosis, some for even less.
One patient in the 331-person multicenter global study lived more than eight years after receiving DCVax. In Britain, Nigel French, 53, is still alive seven years after having him.
“The total results are stunning,” said Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, a neurosurgeon at King’s College Hospital in London, who was the trial’s European chief investigator. “The final results of this phase three trial…offer new hope to patients struggling with glioblastoma.
The vaccine has been shown to “prolong life and, interestingly, in patients traditionally considered to have a poorer prognosis”, such as the elderly and people for whom surgery is not an option, a he added.
If approved by medical regulators, DCVax would be the first new treatment in 17 years for patients newly diagnosed with glioblastoma and the first in 27 years for people who have had it returned.
Trial researchers found that newly diagnosed patients who received the vaccine survived an average of 19.3 months, compared to 16.5 months for those who received a placebo.
Participants with recurrent glioblastoma who had DCVax lived an average of 13.2 months after receiving it, compared to just 7.8 months for those who did not.
Overall, 13% of people who received it lived at least five years after diagnosis, while only 5.7% of those in the control group did, according to trial results, published. Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology.
The vaccine is a form of immunotherapy, in which the body’s immune system is programmed to track down and attack the tumour. It is the first developed to fight against brain tumours.
“The vaccine works by stimulating the patient’s own immune system to fight the patient’s tumor. It provides a personalized solution, working with the patient’s immune system, which is the smartest system known to man,” Ashkan said.
“The vaccine is produced by combining proteins from a patient’s own tumor with their white blood cells. This teaches the white blood cells to recognize the tumour.
“When the vaccine is given, these educated white blood cells then help the rest of the patient’s immune system recognize the tumor as something to fight and destroy. Almost like training a sniffer dog.
The vaccine is not yet available on the NHS. But Northwest Biotherapeutics, the US company that makes it, plans to seek regulatory approval so it can be made available.
The charity Brain Tumor Research said “patients who have been denied new clinical options for too long” need to be able to access treatment to prolong their lives.
“DCVax represents the first emerging therapy proven to be effective in the treatment of glioblastoma since temozolomide chemotherapy in 2005 and what the brain tumor community hopes will become affordable, perhaps becoming the standard of care – therefore available on the NHS,” said Dr Karen Noble, the charity’s director of research, policy and innovation.
“The average survival time for glioblastoma is extremely short – just 12 to 18 months. Stories like Mr French’s are rare but incredibly welcome. We are very encouraged by the final results of this trial,” she said. added.
Twenty of the 331 patients in the eight-year trial were in the UK, either at King’s or University College Hospital in London. A total of 232 participants had DCVax and 99 a placebo. All 331 underwent surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy to remove as much of their tumor as possible, which is the standard treatment for glioblastoma.
Dr Henry Stennett, head of research information at Cancer Research UK, said: “What is particularly exciting is that [the vaccine] may improve outcomes for people who generally do not respond well to treatment. Although it still has to pass strict regulatory approval, it could be a big step forward in the fight against this type of brain tumor.
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