Progress to Cancer Vaccines for Breast and Stomach Cancer

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers presented data from two late-stage trials demonstrating that injections that stimulate the immune system to attack tumors benefitted patients with lymphoma and advanced melanoma, two deadly cancers with limited treatment options.

“These results should open the door for more work with vaccines, for both blood cancers and solid tumors,” said Dr. Larry Kwak, chairman of M.D. Anderson’s department of lymphoma and myeloma and the lymphoma trial’s principal investigator. “We’re finally at the point where the promise is beginning to be realized.”

The lymphoma vaccine, which extended patients’ time in remission a year longer than those who received a placebo, is likely to be granted Food and Drug Administration approval soon, said Kwak. The melanoma vaccine, whose benefits were more modest, will continue to be tweaked and tested, said study co-investigator Dr. Patrick Hwu, chairman of M.D. Anderson’s department of melanoma medical oncology.

Neither vaccine caused serious side effects, one reason the therapy holds such allure. Unlike the scattershot and toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation, therapeutic vaccines are designed to destroy only malignant cells.

Advances in cancer vaccine therapies and a study showing the breast cancer drug Herceptin helps certain patients with gastric cancer were among other developments with the potential to change cancer care shown at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando.

Also there are a new class of drugs are in early trials which offer hope for breast cancer.

The compounds, known as PARP inhibitors, work by obstructing the ability of cells damaged by chemotherapy or through genetic mutations to repair themselves, causing tumor cells to die as a result.

One of the agents being developed by a unit of Sanofi-Aventis SA, called BSI-201, prolonged survival by 3½ months, to 9.2 months, when added to a standard regimen of chemotherapy in a study of 116 women with so-called triple-negative breast cancer that had spread to other parts of the body. Such women lack receptors on their tumors for the hormones estrogen, progesterone and the protein HER2, each of which are targets for many current therapies.

The other drug, known as olaparib, is under development at AstraZeneca PLC. In a nonrandomized study of 52 women with cancer caused by mutations in genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, the agent given alone caused tumors to shrink significantly in as much as 41% of participants. The inherited form of breast cancer often afflicts young women with an aggressive form of the disease.