Using vaccines to treat brain cancer: 4 things to know about this immunotherapy trial

A neuro-oncologist explains this immunotherapy trial to treat brain cancer.

Immunotherapy is a method of treating cancer, and new immune treatments are being studied across the country. Norton Cancer Institute is participating in a clinical trial conducted by AIVITA Biomedical Inc. to study whether a vaccine can help fight off glioblastoma or gliosarcoma of the brain, two forms of brain cancer. Renato V. LaRocca, M.D., a neuro-oncologist and cancer medicine specialist with Norton Cancer Institute, explains this clinical trial and how immunotherapy works. Here are four things to know.

1.    This immunotherapy treatment uses a vaccine to fight brain cancer.

Vaccines are basically a means to try to activate one’s own immune system to recognize the presence of cancer and eliminate it, much like vaccines work against other diseases. There has been interest in vaccines for cancer over the last 40 years, but only one, Provenge for prostate cancer, has shown a possible survival benefit. A similar vaccine that we have worked with in the past at Norton Cancer Institute, ICT-107, demonstrated a small progression-free survival (PFS) benefit. PFS is the length of time during and after treatment that a patient lives with cancer without the cancer getting worse. This is a first step toward obtaining an overall survival (OS) benefit, or increased amount of time that patients live after a diagnosis.

Related content: Understanding astrocytoma and glioblastoma brain tumors

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2.    This study is for patients with grade IV glioblastoma or gliosarcoma of the brain.

This study is open to patients who meet these criteria:

  • Newly diagnosed with grade IV glioblastoma or gliosarcoma
  • Between the ages of 18 to 70
  • Aside from the brain tumor, patients are in relatively good health
  • Have recovered without difficulty from their initial surgery

For patients who meet the study eligibility requirements, there is a two-step procedure before they can receive the vaccine:

  1. A cancer cell line from the patient’s tumor is established. Proteins from this are used to develop a personalized vaccine.
  2. Antigen-presenting cells (a group of immune cells) from the patient’s peripheral blood must be collected successfully.

AIVITA Biomedical prepares the vaccine and ships it to Norton Cancer Institute, and it is administered at specific time points in addition to the patient’s standard treatment. The potential side effects from receiving a vaccine are likely relatively minor.

3.    Vaccines may be one of many treatments used together for brain cancer.

Cancer treatment may require using multiple, diverse options either together or in sequence together, such as surgery, radiation, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and antiangiogenesis agents (drugs or substances that keep cancer from forming new blood vessels). Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was once a devastating illness, but when multiple agents, each with a different mechanism of action were used together, it became manageable, almost a chronic disease. We hope to do the same for high-grade brain tumors.

Use of the vaccine in this particular study does not prevent a patient from receiving standard, state-of-the-art treatment for a high-grade brain tumor.

4.    Immunotherapy is the next frontier in cancer research.

Integrating immunotherapy into a comprehensive approach to treat cancer is where clinical researchers are now focused in their quest to cure this devastating illness. Our knowledge of what makes cancer tick is becoming clearer every year. As a result, novel, and often less toxic treatments are becoming available for study. Access to these treatments is only possible through a clinical trial. In fact, it is only through a controlled, systematic study that we can we learn if new treatments truly work and how to best administer them.


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