In a way, it is something of a milestone along the road to treating one of mankind’s worst diseases – cancer. The formal approval of an anti-cancer ‘vaccine’ (I’ll explain the quotation marks shortly) is a first for the United States, and as such is a signal to the rest of the world that treatment for cancer may be entering a new phase. The word vaccine in this instance doesn’t have the usual connotation of being preventative…such as vaccine against polio, smallpox, and the like. In this case, Provenge, a commercial product developed by Dendreon Corporation (Seattle, Washington USA), is a drug that uses the body’s immune system to fight an existing form of advanced prostate cancer.
Obviously there are many treatments for cancer, including other treatments for prostate cancer. Provenge is classified as a vaccine because of its use of immunotherapy – its ability to stimulate the immune system to higher levels of antibodies (white blood cells containing proteins that attack this specific form of cancer). The process of creating the vaccine begins with extracting white blood cells from a patient’s own blood. The cells are then treated with protein promoters that are associated with prostate cancer, which ‘tunes’ the white cells against it. Then the white cells are infused back into the patient over a three month period.
The good news, and the reasons for its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is that it works and does not have very severe side-effects.
The less good news is that it adds at best about 4 months to the life of a patient with advanced prostate cancer. Also, a typical course of treatment costs about $93,000.
Despite that it’s a marginal improvement over existing drugs, adds a marginal improvement in life-expectancy, and costs a lot of money – it’s a first. That means, once the door has been opened – and believe me, passing through the FDA door is no mean feat – there will be many improvements to follow. As one of its proponents put it:
“The important thing about Provenge is it represents a foundation we can build on,” said Dr. Christopher Logothetis, chairman of M.D. Anderson’s department of genitourinary oncology, who testified to the FDA last year in support of Provenge. “Because its benefits now are fairly modest, it speaks to the promise of the future more than the reality of the moment.”
[Source: Houston Chronicle]