A revolutionary vaccine that offers hope for metastatic prostate cancer patients will be used for the first time in Michigan at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit in the coming weeks.
While the drug, Provenge, offers treatment for men with advanced stages of prostate cancer, it is not a cure. Even in worst cases among men with short prognosis,the drug is expected to prolong life for about four months and increase the quality of life.
About 186,000 American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and most of them present with metastatic cancer that has spread to the bones, or other parts of the body such as lymph nodes or liver. Black men have a 60 percent higher chance of dying from prostate cancer than their Caucasian counterparts.
“This is a huge advancement,” said Dr. Elisabeth Heath, a renowned oncologist who specializes in prostate cancer treatment and an associate professor at Wayne State University, who will administer the drug to the first of Michigan’s prostate cancer candidates. “Scientists continue to advance targeted treatments to help prevent cancer growth.”
The $93,000 immunotherapy drug treatment is the first FDA-approved vaccine for prostate cancer and is administered after a complex process.
“It’s not like going to the doctor’s office for a chickenpox vaccine,” said Heath while making the first public announcement about the new vaccine at Karmanos to LivingWell magazine.
Instead, it requires a three-hour apheresis at the American Red Cross, a process in which blood is removed from the body, separated and then returned.
The captured blood products will be flown from Detroit to a laboratory in Newark, New Jersey, where it will be processed into the vaccine and flown back to Karmanos. The first of three individually-tailored vaccine shots is given three days after the apheresis. The subsequent two shots are given exactly two and four weeks later.
The drug is designed to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight prostate cancer cells and kill them. Provenge kills most cancer cells, but even one remaining cancer cell can mutate and regenerate into a million cells, Heath explained.
She added that while the vaccine can’t cure cancer, scientists expect it to lead to the next generation of clinical trials, which would combine the drug with traditional therapies to come closer to a cure.
Karmanos is one of 50 sites in the United States designated to offer the drug treatment for a year before it will be widely available to all medical centers. Provenge’s high price tag requires that it be approved by insurance companies before it is administered.
Provenge is generating a buzz among cancer patients, and Heath says she’s getting calls from doctors around the nation seeking more information. For anxious doctors who can’t yet offer the vaccine, Heath is offering information about developments from ongoing clinical trials.
“From a patient advocacy standpoint, it’s a hot item,” Heath said. “People don’t get excited about chemotherapy, but they are getting very excited about this vaccine.”
At Karmanos, several men are on a waiting list for the shot. Like all drugs, Provenge was developed with the help of clinical trials. Currently, about 25 clinical trials examining new treatments for various stages of prostate cancer are being conducted at Karmanos.
Men interested in participating in a clinical trial should contact the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute at (800) KARMANOS or (800) 527-6266. Karmanos is one of 13 hospitals nationally participating in the Prostate Cancer Clinical Trials Consortium.
For more information about the consortium or clinical trials, visit www.pcctc.org.
Photo Credit: Patricia Ellis