News Release

February 20, 2008

Contact: Christopher DeFrancesco, 860-679-3914

Using Cancerous Tumors Against Themselves

UConn Scientist Studying Treatment Derived from Patient’s Own Cells

FARMINGTON, CONN. – A University of Connecticut Health Center researcher has been studying a formula for an individualized drug therapy that causes the body to identify cancerous cells and attack them.

“In this approach to treating cancer, one does not have the vaccine in a bottle off the shelf so that everyone can get the same medicine,” says Pramod Srivastava, Ph.D., director of the Center for Immunotherapy of Cancer and Infectious Diseases at the UConn Health Center. “We take a patient’s tumor and make the vaccine from it for that patient, on a patient-by-patient basis.”

The Feb. 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology details Srivastava’s findings from clinical trials of the custom-made vaccine, called vitespen, in patients with stage IV melanoma, or terminal skin cancer. Those who were vaccinated tended to outlive those who were not, and the data suggest the more doses a patient received, the greater the survival rate. Additionally, patients with tumors in the skin, lymph nodes or lungs responded relatively well to vitespen.

“The next step is to accrue in a new trial of stage IV melanoma patients, those for whom we can make at least 10 doses of the vaccine,” Srivastava says. “If the results are consistent with what we saw in this trial, the FDA may approve this as a drug.”

This is the furthest any individualized tumor-derived vaccine of this kind has gone in the clinical trial process, Srivastava says.

The science behind this therapy has to do with the combination of heat shock proteins and peptides. Heat shock proteins are cell components present in all living organisms. Peptides are protein fragments, or the pieces left when the body replaces old proteins with new ones. Heat shock proteins bound to peptides are drawn from tumor tissue, and from them, the vaccine is made.

The study abstract is available at:

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