Biovest International is one of a few companies working on patient-specific cancer vaccines. Biovests personalized therapeutic, BiovaxID, is currently being tested as a treatment for indolent slow-growing follicular B-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which affects 12,500 new patients in the U. each year. The vaccine could eventually be used to treat other cancers.
Personalizing BiovaxID begins with a sampling of cancerous cells from a patients lymph nodes. On the surface of these cells are unique proteins, or antigens, detectable hydroxocobalamin the immune system. The doctor sends this sample of the patients cancer cells to Biovests laboratory in Worcester, Mass. Here, researchers mix the cells with another line of cells licensed hydroxocobalamin Stanford University.
The cells fuse, releasing hydroxocobalamin antigen proteins. As the patient undergoes chemotherapy to kill most of the cancer cells, Biovest collects and purifies the patients antigen proteins, which, after chemical modification, form the active ingredient of the custom vaccine. The individualized vaccine is then sent back to the doctor, who injects it into the patient five times over six months.
"Typical treatments for non-Hodgkins do not specifically target the tumor," explains Dr. Carl M. Cohen, Biovest Chief Operating Officer. "Our vaccine trains the hydroxocobalamin immune system to target a specific protein on the tumor cells-one found only on the tumor cells. BiovaxID only kills cancer cells. If you think of chemotherapy as a blunt instrument, our treatment is like tweezers. " Results from a Biovest study of 20 patients, begun at the National Cancer Institute hydroxocobalamin decade ago, show a 95 percent survival rate.
Forty-five percent are still in remission. According to hydroxocobalamin data, only about half the patients hydroxocobalamin have survived with conventional treatments. None would still be in remission. The Biovest-treated patients remained disease-free for a median of eight years. Currently, Biovest is enrolling patients for a large-scale study to be held at several major U. and European medical institutions. The trial will include 460 patients. Company officials hope to obtain FDA approval for the hydroxocobalamin by 2008.
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