|Vaccines: A New Frontier in Cancer Research
The takeaway from this year's American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, held in Chicago from May 31 to June 3, was that cancer vaccines and other types of immunotherapy drugs are one of the more promising new directions in cancer treatment.
Q & A with Elizabeth Mittendorf: A Vaccine to Prevent Recurrence
Dr. Elizabeth Mittendorf, a surgical oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, is leading an international
|Dr. Elizabeth Mittendorf|
phase III clinical trial that is exploring whether the NeuVax vaccine can reduce the risk of recurrence in women with stage II-IIIa, lymph-node positive, HER2-negative breast cancer.
Q: How was this vaccine developed?
A: Investigators at MD Anderson found that breast and ovarian cancer cells had an epitope--a part of a molecule the immune system recognizes as foreign--that T-cells were attracted to. Because T-cells are the front line of the immune system's defense mechanism, this suggested we might be able to develop a vaccine that would augment this process and kill cancer cells.
It took quite awhile to get Neuvax, which is a peptide vaccine, into clinical trials. (A peptide is a sequence of amino acids.) We wanted to use NeuVax in the adjuvant setting, giving it to women who have just completed treatment with the goal of preventing recurrence. Previous peptide vaccine trials tested vaccines in patients who already had metastatic disease (most had metastatic melanoma). Those trials weren't successful, and we were hoping that using a peptide vaccine in the adjuvant setting would be more effective.
Q: Why would a peptide vaccine not work in the metastatic setting?
Q&A With Diane Altenburg:
Entering a Vaccine Trial
In 2005, breast cancer survivor Diane Altenburg enrolled in the phase II trial of NeuVax.
Q: When were you diagnosed with
breast cancer and how were you treated?
A: My first diagnosis of breast cancer was in 2000, when I was 53. The tumor was in my right breast. I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation and then went on tamoxifen. I was in my fourth year of tamoxifen when I was diagnosed with cancer in my left breast. This time the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes. I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy and then started Arimidex.
Q: How did you hear about the NeuVax clinical trial?
A: I was treated at the Walter Reed National Military Center and my oncologist suggested that I participate. They wanted you to be as cancer-free as possible when you entered the trial, so you had to enroll within a month of finishing chemotherapy or radiation. It was the first time I had been in a clinical trial.
Q: What motivated you to take part?