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According to the results of two studies presented at the 12th World Conference on Lung Cancer, experimental vaccines are showing some promise in the treatment of non–small cell lung cancer.

Lung cancer causes more cancer-related deaths in the United States than the next three most deadly cancers combined. Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, comprising approximately 75–80% of all lung cancers.

Because many lung cancer patients experience poor treatment outcomes, researchers continue to explore new approaches to treatment, such as vaccines.

Cancer vaccines fall into two categories: preventive (prophylactic) and therapeutic. Prophylactic vaccines are intended to prevent the development of cancer. Gardasil®-a vaccine that reduces the risk of cervical cancer and genital warts by preventing infection with four types of human papillomavirus-is an example of a prophylactic vaccine. In contrast, therapeutic vaccines are intended to treat existing cancer, and are generally designed to stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. Thus far, researchers have had limited success developing effective therapeutic cancer vaccines.

Two studies presented at the 12th World Conference on Lung Cancer provided results from studies of vaccine therapy for NSCLC.

The first study was a Phase II clinical trial of an experimental MAGE-A3 vaccine.[[1]]( "_ednref1") Roughly one-third of non–small cell lung cancers express the MAGE-A3 gene. MAGE-A3 is not expressed in normal cells. The study involved 182 patients with Stage IB or Stage II NSCLC that expressed MAGE-A3. After completion of all other cancer therapy, study participants received either the experimental MAGE-A3 vaccine or a placebo. Compared to patients who received the placebo, patients who received the vaccine had a 27% improvement in disease-free survival. The vaccine appeared to be well tolerated, and will be further evaluated in a Phase III clinical trial.

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The second study was a Phase IIB clinical trial of an experimental vaccine known as Stimuvax® (BLP25 liposome vaccine).[[2]]( "_ednref2") The study enrolled patients with Stage IIIB or Stage IV NSCLC that was stable or responding after initial chemotherapy. Patients were treated with either the vaccine plus best supportive care (care to relieve symptoms) or best supportive care alone. In the subset of patients with Stage IIIB cancer and no pleural effusion, median survival was 30.6 months among patients who had received the vaccine and 13.3 months among patients who did not receive the vaccine. A Phase III clinical trial has been initiated to further evaluate the vaccine in patients with inoperable Stage III NSCLC.

These studies suggest that some progress is being made in vaccine development for the treatment of lung cancer


[[1]]( "_edn1") Vansteenkiste J, Zielinski M, Linder A, et al. Activity of MAGE-A3 cancer immunotherapeutic as adjuvant therapy in stage IB/II non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): final results of a multi-center, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled phase II study. Journal of Thoracic Oncology.2007;2:S334,abstract B1-05.

[[2]]( "_edn2") Butts C, Maksymiuk A, Goss G, et al. A multicentre phase IIB randomized controlled study of BLP25 liposome vaccine (L-BLP25 or Stimuvax) for specific immunotherapy of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): updated survival analysis. Journal of Thoracic Oncology. 2007;2:S331,abstract B1-01.

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