The nation's first FDA-approved cancer treatment vaccine, Provenge (sipuleucel-T), is being offered for the first time in Western New York at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
The vaccine is designed for men with advanced prostate cancer who have limited treatment options and who meet eligibility requirements.
"It's the first time we are able to offer immunotherapy with an FDA-approved product," says Roberto Pili, M.D., chief of the Genitourinary Section in RPCI's Department of Medicine.
Provenge represents a new approach to cancer treatment - using vaccines to trigger the patient's own immune system to attack cancer cells. RPCI patients who receive Provenge will have immune cells purified from their blood; this process will take place at the American Red Cross headquarters in Buffalo. The immune cells will then be shipped to a central lab, where they will be combined with a specific protein (an antigen) that stimulates the immune cells to recognize and kill prostate cancer cells.
The resulting vaccine, custom-created for each patient, will be shipped to RPCI to be administered intravenously, in three doses, approximately two weeks apart. Because the vaccine uses the patient's own immune cells, "there are no serious allergic reactions," notes Pili. Potential reactions include fever and flu-like symptoms, "but these are rare. This is a generally well-tolerated procedure."
Pili says patients will be evaluated at RPCI to ensure that they meet the eligibility requirements. These include: a diagnosis of prostate cancer that has spread to the bones or other areas outside the prostate; few or minimal symptoms of the disease; and disease that has recurred despite treatments to reduce levels of male hormones, or androgens, which help fuel the growth of prostate cancer. A study published in the July 29, 2010, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that Provenge significantly extended overall survival for men in this category, whose disease is incurable.
Pili says RPCI researchers hope to conduct clinical trials that will combine Provenge with other types of treatment, with the goal of improving the effectiveness of the vaccine therapy.
"This is just the beginning," he said.
For more information, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724).