Researchers in the Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center are now launching attacks on glioblastomas from a new angle – by turning the patient’s immune system against the cancer cells. Where targeted chemotherapy uses drugs to disable proteins that cancer cells need to grow, immunotherapy drugs stimulate the patient’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells.
Traditional drugs and even targeted chemotherapy agents have had little success in treating glioblastoma – a very aggressive type of brain tumor.
“Immunotherapy represents a great hope for patients currently facing this disease,” says David Reardon, MD, clinical director of the Center.
Last November, Dr. Reardon reported that a new cancer vaccine, rindopepimut, showed promise in a clinical trial of patients whose glioblastoma cells contain a particular gene mutation. Cancer vaccines are a form of immunotherapy that have been studied and tested for many years with some success. They’re often made from an individual patient’s tumor cells, or parts of them, which are processed in the laboratory and returned to the patient to stimulate a strong immune response.
Rindopepimut, given along with the drug Avastin, significantly improved the survival of patients whose tumors carried the mutation known as EGFRvIII, which is found in about one-third of glioblastoma tumors.
“This is the first randomized clinical trial of immunotherapy to show a survival benefit in glioblastoma,” says Dr. Reardon. “It is a very nice proof of concept.”Insight, the blog of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.