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Researchers from Canada and the United Kingdom have reported improved survival of patients with stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) after treatment with a cancer vaccine, according to study results presented at the 23rd annual Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium and previously published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for approximately 75-80% of all lung cancers.

Standard treatment for NSCLC largely depends on the stage or extent of spread of the cancer. Approaches may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or targeted therapy. Cancer vaccines are one type of targeted therapy being evaluated for the treatment of several types of cancer, including NSCLC.

Previous studies of vaccine therapy for patients with cancer have been disappointing. Researchers in the current study, however, were hopeful that vaccination against a substance called MUC1, which is widely and abnormally expressed in NSCLC, could produce an anticancer response and improve survival. The goal of vaccine was to produce an immune response that would cause the body to reject tissues that express MUC1.

To evaluate the effect of this vaccine (called L-BLP25), researchers in Canada and the United Kingdom conducted a phase II clinical trial. The study enrolled 171 patients with stage IIIB or IV NSCLC who responded or had stable disease after first-line treatment. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either the vaccine or best supportive care.

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Median survival in the vaccinated patients was 4.4 months longer than in the unvaccinated patients (17.4 months vs. 13 months), but this difference was not “statistically significant.” Furthermore, patients with pleural effusion did not appear to survive longer with the vaccination. There was a possible survival benefit, however, for the subgroup of patients with stage IIIB NSCLC:

  • Survival at two years was 60% for those treated with the vaccine, compared with 36% for those who received best supportive care.
  • No serious side effects were noted with the use of the vaccine.

The researchers concluded that although there was no significant survival difference among all stage IIIB/IV NSCLC patients treated with the vaccine, patients with stage IIIB disease and no pleural effusion achieved a significant improvement in survival compared to those who received best supportive care. A planned clinical trial will further evaluate the role of this vaccine in the treatment of stage IIIB NSCLC.

Reference: Murray N, Butts C, Maksymiuk A, et al. BLP24 Liposome Vaccine, a MUC1 Vaccine for the Treatment of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Proceedings from the 23rd annual Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium. 2005. New York. Abstract #49.

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