A brain tumor vaccine doubles the five-year survival rate of cancer patients, a trial has shown, in the first major breakthrough in decades.
Researchers at King’s College Hospital in London have shown that 13% of vaccinated patients with the most aggressive form of glioblastoma were still alive after five years, compared to only 5.7% in the control group. One patient survived for eight years.
This is the first time in 17 years that there has been a significant improvement for newly diagnosed glioblastoma, and the first time in 27 years that treatment has been shown to prolong survival in recurrent glioblastoma.
Patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma who were treated with the vaccine survived an average of 19.3 months from randomization, compared to 16.5 months for the control group.
Patients with recurrent glioblastoma who were treated with the vaccine survived an average of 13.2 months, compared to 7.8 months for the control group.
“Very promising approach for the treatment of cancer”
Keyoumars Ashkan, Professor of Neurosurgery at King’s College Hospital, and European Principal Investigator of the clinical trial, said: “Immunotherapy is a very promising approach to the treatment of cancer, and the final results of this phase three trial , now open and published, offer new hope for patients struggling with glioblastoma.
“The vaccine has been shown to prolong life, and interestingly in patients traditionally considered to have a poorer prognosis.
“For example, we see clear benefits in older patient groups as well as in patients in whom radical surgery was not possible for technical or other reasons.”
The treatment works by harnessing the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer, helping the body recognize and attack cancer cells.
The vaccine is created for each patient individually by isolating specific immune cells, called dendritic cells, from their blood.
Dendritic immune cells work by capturing harmful invaders and presenting them to other immune cells so that they can be destroyed.
After the dendritic cells are removed from the body, they are mixed with biomarkers from the patient’s tumor. When the vaccine containing the cells is injected back into the patient, it shares this information with the immune system, which then attacks the tumour.
Vaccine tested for 8 years
The vaccine was tested for eight years and involved more than 300 patients from the UK, US, Canada and Germany – all of whom had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain tumor in the adult.
The vaccinated group received the new treatment, the standard course of chemotherapy and radiotherapywhile the control group had only the standard treatment.
Nigel French, 53, a King patient from Whitstable in Kent, was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2015 after suffering a nocturnal seizure. After being referred to King’s for surgery, he was offered to enroll in the vaccine trial, which he accepted. Seven years later, he is still in remission and is grateful to have had the opportunity to test the vaccine.
Mr French said: “I am very grateful to the team at King’s for giving me this lifeline. Although I can’t be sure if I received the vaccine or the placebo, I believe that the treatment I received, in addition to staying positive, saved my life.
The team is now keen to test the vaccine with other types of brain tumors and drug combinations.
Professor Ashkan added: ‘I am optimistic that we can build on this moving forward.
“Applying the same technology to develop treatments for other forms of brain tumors will be the next natural step.”
The results were published in the Journal of American Medical Association Oncology.