Initiated in September 2000, the ongoing study comprises 31 patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer who have been treated with the vaccine. With the optimal dose, the majority of the patients have experienced an immune response to the vaccine. There is a trend for these patients to live longer than those who failed to respond, and for the patients who received a higher dose to live longer than those who received the lower dose. Gaudernack warns that since there was little evidence of tumour reduction, this is not a cure but rather a means of stabilising the cancer.
The vaccine has been designed to encourage the immune system to respond to telomerase produced by cancer cells. Found in virtually all types of cancer, this target is responsible for giving cancer cells an unlimited capacity to divide. The immunologists' aim is to stimulate the patient's own immune system to recognise this protein and destroy the cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone. There are still some questions related to the long-term safety of the vaccine.
Gaudernack emphasises the need to verify these results by controlled studies on larger groups of patients.