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Jefferson researchers find immune response, dosing keys to vaccine's success against melanoma

How well a patient's immune system reacts to his own cancer cells and the schedule by which the vaccine is given are two key factors in the success of a custom-made vaccine created from the cancer cells of patients with malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer and fastest growing cancer in the United States.

Nearly one-half 44 percent of malignant melanoma patients enrolled in a clinical trial who received the vaccine following standard surgery lived at least five years no small achievement, considering that only about 20 percent live that long with surgery alone, according to David Berd, M.D., professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center.

"Although additional, controlled trials will be necessary to prove efficacy, these numbers look promising," says Dr. Berd, who created the vaccine. "We're emphasizing what we call the immunopharmacology of our cancer vaccine, meaning that how the vaccine is administered and the immune response that it elicits strongly influence whether or not a patient will survive five years."

He and his colleagues report their findings in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. An editorial accompanies the paper. The phase II trial examined the immunological and clinical results of a vaccine given to 214 melanoma patients with clinical stage III disease, meaning it had spread to lymph nodes that were large enough to be felt by routine examination.

The vaccine was prepared from each patient's own cancer cells. Before injecting the cells into patients, they were inactivated and modified with a chemical, dinitrophenyl (DNP). It is believed that the chemically-altered cells make the cancer cells more visible to the body's immune system, which recognizes and reacts against them.

According to Dr. Berd, the immune response against the cancer cells is measured by a test called delayed-type hype
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Contact: Steve Benowitz
steven.benowitz@jefferson.edu
215-955-5291
Thomas Jefferson University
12-Feb-2004


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