Patients diagnose with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive form of primary brain tumor, face a bleak survival rate of 3 to 9 months. Typically, patients are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – but these traditional techniques simply cannot keep up with an alarmingly fast rate of growth. GBM tumors are notoriously resistant to standard therapies, and remain one of the most dreaded diagnoses because despite treatment, they almost always come back. This is why clinical research in the field is so important, and why a new study from Northwestern Memorial Hospital is receiving positive attention.
Using tumor tissue to create a vaccine
Northwestern scientists investigated the effects of using patients’ own tumor samples to create a customized vaccine that helps the immune system better defend itself. The vaccine, HSPPC-96, is produced individually for each patient using their resected tumor tissue. Following the patient’s surgery, the tumor is sent to the vaccine production facility at Agenus Inc., where the HSPPC-96 vaccine is created. The vaccine is unique to the individual participant and is engineered to trigger an immune system response to kill tumor cells that may remain following surgery. Following treatment, 90% of patients were alive at six months and 30% were alive after one year.
Northwestern researchers are currently conducting the next phase of this study, which will follow pharmaceutical quality assurance protocol in order to determine if the vaccine HSPPC-96 is enhanced through combination with Avastin. Avastin is a drug that is known to shrink brain tumors and is a standard therapy for recurrent GBM. The drug works by choking off the tumor’s blood supply, but there is debate as to whether or not it can truly extend life. Avastin lost its approval for treating breast cancer almost 2 years ago, and some researchers debate its usefulness in the treatment of GBM. However, experts maintain that the drug should remain an option for patients battling recurring tumors.
A new offensive strategy
Some brain tumor experts suggest that because Avastin does not always work as predicted, it should not be used as a frontline treatment, but rather as a salvage or second-line therapy. Critics of Avastin demand a more rigorous application of pharmaceutical quality control measures that could take the drug off shelves. They call for new research to determine more precisely how patients actually benefit from Avastin. And the Northwestern team has produced precisely the kind of research that could make the old stand-by drug more useful to sufferers of GBM – a combination one-two punch that could offer hope to millions of patients.
Do you think that criticized drugs like Avastin should be implemented as part of a new combination therapy?