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Vaccine With Drug Payload Shows Promise Against Tumors
Date:2/11/2013

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Preliminary research produced promising results for a cancer-fighting drug that piggybacks on a virus similar to the one used in the smallpox vaccine.

Patients with advanced liver cancer who were given higher doses of the drug lived months longer than those who took lower doses, and the researchers said some of them are still alive three years later.

There are many caveats. The drug, known as JX-594, is in the early stages of development, and the evidence is years from being ready to be submitted for approval by U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials. The study is also very small, doesn't compare patients who took the drug to those who didn't, and offers no details about its potential cost.

However, the finding is unusual because it suggests that a drug that enters the body through a virus can improve survival in cancer patients, said study co-author Dr. David Kirn, chief medical officer with Jennerex Biotherapeutics, in San Francisco, which is developing the medication. The average survival "more than doubled" in those who took the larger doses. "It's exciting and important for the field, but there's no question we need to confirm it," he said.

William Phelps, director of preclinical and translational cancer research for the American Cancer Society, called the research "promising" and said it reflects the evolution of cancer research toward developing new ways to treat the disease other than the traditional methods of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which aim to remove or kill the cancer.

The new drug, like others that are now in development, tries to stimulate the patient's own immune system to fight the cancer. It works by entering the body through an "engineered vaccine" that's similar to the vaccine that prevents smallpox. (The vaccine in this case, like the smallpox vaccine, doesn't cause disease.)

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