June 8, 2000 INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University Cancer Center is investigating a new vaccine for treating prostate cancer that has spread beyond the prostate gland.
Vaccination against disease is not a new concept, but in the arena of cancer therapies it is viewed as a possible way to kill malignant cells without damaging healthy cells. In this case, the therapy holds promise because it provides an avenue for treating the malignant cells before they become symptomatic.
Participants in the trial are men who have already undergone surgery or radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Subsequent blood tests for prostate specific antigen indicated their cancer has spread. PSA is produced by the prostate, but patients enrolling in this trial have had their prostates removed or treated with radiation so their PSA levels should be very low or undetectable. Participants in the trial must have no symptoms or findings of disease recurrence other than the elevated PSA.
"Because of the PSA blood test, recurrence of prostate cancer can be detected at an earlier stage than it could be previously," said Christopher Sweeney, M.D., an oncologist at the IU School of Medicine and one of the physicians treating trial participants. "It is hoped the vaccine will boost the patient's immune system and eliminate the cancer while it is still at a low level in the body."
Two vaccines are being tested to determine which treatment regimen is most effective. One uses the vaccinia virus, a relatively harmless virus used in smallpox vaccines, and the second uses the fowlpox vaccine. Both are genetically altered viruses that have been changed to express human PSA. The PSA-bearing virus is attacked by the human immune system and, ideally, the body simultaneously will attack the PSA tumor cells.
Patients are treated with four injections six weeks apart and then followed for at least six months to determine if the PSA tumor cells were eradicated. The IU Cancer Center is one of five sites nationwide enrolling patients for the Phase II trial. The trial is sponsored by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group, a national cancer clinical trial cooperative group funded by the National Cancer Institute.
People seeking additional information or who want to enroll in the trial may call Karen Fife at 317-274-2552.
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