Personalized Vaccines To Fight Brain Cancer

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

UCSF is trying an innovative way to treat deadly brain cancer. Doctors there are using a vaccine made from the patient's own tumor to trigger the immune system.

Lana's problems began simply enough.

Lana Hekkala, patient: "The toes on my left foot stopped working and I started having a balance problem."

The diagnosis? Brain cancer.

Worst still, brain scans showed her cancer had recurred after treatment and was even more dangerous than before.

Lana Hekkala: "The later tumor, the one they discovered later on, was about the size of a deck of cards."

The tumor was deadly glioblastoma. Lana new she was in a fight for her life.

Andrew Parsa, MD, PhD, UCSF neurosurgeon: "The median survival is 12-and-a-half months from time of diagnosis."

Glioblastoma Multiforme is the most deadly type of brain tumor. After diagnosis, patients are usually given very little time to live. But now UCSF doctors hope a new type of vaccine may change that prognosis.

UCSF neurosurgeon, Dr. Andrew Parsa, has 12 patients, including Lana, in first stage clinical trials of the new Oncophage vaccine. He is cautiously optimistic.

D. Parsa: "It represents the opportunity to use the patient's own immune system to provoke a response and target the cancer cells."

After a tumor is surgically removed it's immediately shipped to Antigenics, the Oncophage vaccine manufacturer that supplied this video. Lab scientists homogenize and extract a particular compound of immune-boosting protein peptides that carries the DNA fingerprint of the patient's cancer. It is isolated and purified into individualized vaccine vials.

Every two weeks, Dr. Parsa injects Lana with her own personal vaccine designed to boost her T-cells. So far blood tests confirm that it's working.

Dr. Parsa: "The vaccine is provoking an immune response."

He calls Lana one of his greatest success stories, already surpassing her expected survival time and going strong.

Dr. Parsa: "Her MRI scan looks very good. It looks as if the tumor is not coming back and she's tolerating the vaccine very well."

Lana is hopeful too.

Lana Hekkala: "I think this is definitely the way to go. If we use our own bodies to heal our bodies, that's a much better plan."

The UCSF researchers say they have seen an immune response in every patient they've treated, which is very unusual. But they caution they need to expand the trials to see if that results in longer lives for more patients.

Physician Profiled:

Andrew T. Parsa MD, PhD
University of California, San Francisco
505 Parnassus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94143-0112

Physician Contact Info:

Carol Hyman
Assistant News Director
UCSF Public Affairs

For Brain Vaccine Clinical Trials Information:

Contact Jane Rabbitt or Margaretta Page at 415.353.2966
Or e-mail Valerie Kivett at

About the clinical trial:

Neurosurgeon Andrew Parsa is running a clinical trial on patients with Glioblastoma Multiforme, the most deadly type of brain tumor. After diagnosis, patients are given very little time to live-- generally less than a year.

What Dr. Parsa does, is remove as much of the tumor he can, and then sends it to a biotech company called Antigenics where a vaccine, called Oncophage, is created from an individual tumor's healthy protein, then injected back into the same patient. Using a proprietary manufacturing process, the heat shock protein gp96 and its associated peptides are isolated from the tumor. The complexes are extracted and purified from each sample, then sterilely filtered and placed into vials. The final product is subject to extensive quality-control testing, including sterility testing of each lot. The vaccine is shipped frozen back to the hospital pharmacy for use when the patient has recovered from surgery. "Our hope is that by using our vaccines, we can make the immune system of the patient fight thecancer and, by fighting the cancer, we can give them a long-term cure," Parsa said. "It's exciting. We're seeing something for the first time. It's like man walking on the moon." When the tumor is removed, Parsa said the space it leaves fills up with spinal fluid. He said each customized vaccine would only work on the patient it came from.

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