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Medicare Panel Endorses Vaccine for Prostate Cancer Patients
Date:11/18/2010

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- A newly approved therapeutic prostate cancer vaccine won the support Wednesday of a Medicare advisory committee, increasing the chances that Medicare will pay for the drug.

Officials from Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled, will consider the committee's vote when making a final decision on payment. Such a decision is expected in several months, the Wall Street Journal reported. The vaccine, called Provenge and made by the Dendreon Corp., costs $93,000 per patient and extends survival by about four months on average, according to results from clinical trials.

A study published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the vaccine extended the lives of men with metastatic tumors resistant to standard hormonal treatment, compared with no treatment. And the therapy involved less toxicity than chemotherapy.

Provenge is a therapeutic (not preventive) vaccine made from the patient's own white blood cells. Once removed from the patient, the cells are treated with the drug and placed back into the patient. These treated cells then trigger an immune response that in turn kills cancer cells, leaving normal cells unharmed. The vaccine is given intravenously in a three-dose schedule delivered in two-week intervals.

"The strategy of trying to harness the immune system to fight cancer has been something that people have tried to attain for many years; this is one such strategy," study lead researcher Dr. Philip Kantoff, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told HealthDay.

One expert said the therapy, while far from a cure, "looks promising." Dr. Elizabeth Kavaler, an urologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that "in this unfortunate category of [hormone-resistant] patient
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