But that benefit would have to be shown in clinical trials, Lichtenfeld said. "It will represent a new treatment option. It will have a modest impact on prostate cancer survival, but it's small changes in treatments over time that add up to a major improvement. So I wouldn't be discouraged by what is a small increment in survival."
Provenge is a therapeutic (not preventative) vaccine that is 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 cause an immune response, which in turn kills cancer cells, while leaving normal cells unharmed.
According to the FDA, Provenge is given intravenously in a three-dose schedule delivered in two-week intervals.
The vaccine was developed by Seattle-based Dendreon Corp., which conducted initial studies among men with advanced prostate cancer who had already failed standard hormone treatment. Among these men, Provenge extended life by an average of 4.5 months, although some patients saw their lives extended by two to three years. The only side effects were mild flu-like symptoms, according to the study results.
The FDA noted that in one study, men taking Provenge had a slightly higher risk for cerebrovascular events, such as stroke, with 3.5 percent of those taking Provenge suffering such events versus 2.6 percent of those who did not take the drug.
In 2007, an FDA advisory panel recommended that the agency approve Provenge, but at the time the FDA said more data was needed before it would approve the drug.
Dr. Mark Soloway, professor and chair of urology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "we certainly need the opportunity for our patients to have alternatives."
The big question, according to Soloway, is when do you use Provenge? Whether it should be used before chemothera
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