India's first cancer vaccine to start human trial

First tests will be conducted to check its efficacy against ovarian cancer

India's first cancer vaccine to start human trial

The vaccine, which promises to substantially prolong the life-span of patients with advanced stages of cancer, passed with flying colours in animal trials and toxicity tests. It can be used against breast, ovarian, cervical and blood cancer.

Almost simultaneously, the same vaccine developed at National Institute of Immunology (NII) will be put in different clinical trial in a US cancer hospital, Sloan Kettering Memorial, for which the National Cancer Institute signed an agreement with the NII.

While the trial at Adyar Cancer Institute will focus on cervical cancer, the vaccine’s efficacy against ovarian cancer will be tested in the US trial, NII scientist Anil Suri who heads the cancer vaccine team told Deccan Herald.

The vaccine will be tried on 18 patients with Stage-3 cancer. Their responses will be compared against another group of 18 patients receiving the standard therapy for cervical cancer. Adyar hospital has received one round of approval from the institute ethics committee but wants to have another clearance from the ethics panel as well as green signal from the Drugs Controller General of India before initiating the trial around March 2012, according to T Rajkumar, a doctor who will lead the clinical trial programme.
The indigenous vaccine works around a new cancer treatment modality called dendritic cell therapy where a patient’s own immune cells are used to fight cancer.

Dendritic cells are a type of immune cells which are present in the body in small quantities. Blood cells are harvested  from a patient and processing them in the laboratory to produce the dendritic cells in large quantity and improve their efficacy.

Subsequently these improved dendritic cells are given back to patients to optimally activate their own immune system for a clinically significant response against cancer. In the Chennai trial, the cancer patient's own blood cells will be harvested in the laboratory and primed with an antigen (a protein) called SPAG-9, discovered by NII researchers.

The antigen-processed dendritic cells will then be used as a therapeutic vaccine. The hospital’s confidence on the new vaccine was boosted by a stage-4 cancer patient who received the same therapy in 2007 during the toxicity tests. The lesions in her lung were eliminated and the disease did not return.

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