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Vaccine treatment may soon be used for prostate cancer

Later this week, the FDA is expected to approve a novel vaccine treatment for prostate cancer. As reported by ABC today, the vaccine, which works by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight cancerous cells, has been shown in trials to extend the lives of patients with advanced cancer and to cause only mild, flu-like side effects. (Traditional cancer treatment, like chemotherapy, is known to be much harder on the body.)

The Seattle Times also covered the story and chronicled the treatment’s long road to (possible) FDA approval. Stanford pathologist Edgar Engleman, MD, who did early work on the vaccine and co-founded a company to develop it in the early 1990s, is quoted as saying it shouldn’t have taken this long. “I think the world wasn’t quite ready for such a novel approach,” he said. (Engleman is no longer part of the company but does still own Dendreon stock.)

Engleman told me this afternoon that he’s thrilled with the prospect of FDA approval, and the development would “justify twenty years of research.” And a green light for the therapy would have other, wide-reaching implications, as recently reported by Nature.com:

If the vaccine is approved, it will mark a turning point for the field of therapeutic cancer vaccines, an approach that seemed promising but developed a disappointing reputation after several high-profile failures in clinical trials. Although a few vaccines have been licensed for use in other countries, none has broken through to the US market. An FDA-approved vaccine, says Theresa Whiteside, an immunologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, “would sort of legitimize the field”. It would also offer a potential new treatment for patients with advanced prostate cancer, which killed more than 28,000 US men in 2008.

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