Cancer Vaccine Proves Effective in Early Trials

Dentistry Today
Image by Mount Sinai Health System.


Image by Mount Sinai Health System.

Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City is one of the only institutions in the country testing a vaccine to treat patients who already have tonsil or tongue cancers related to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Unlike preventive vaccines for HPV, the vaccine-like immunotherapy developed by Advaxis activates the immune system against HPV-related cancer cells.

HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer, and incidents are rising among the younger population. In fact, HPV cases make up approximately 60% to 70% of all tonsil-based and tongue-based cancers in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 9,000 people are diagnosed with throat cancer caused by HPV each year.

Since HPV hides from the immune system by becoming a part of cells, this immunotherapy helps the body better identify those cancerous cells and tricks the immune system into thinking the cancer cells are an invading bacteria. Research shows that it has the potential to serve as long-term protection from the HPV-related cancer cells.

Mount Sinai is now conducting phase II of this clinical trial. Patients receive 2 vaccines prior to robotic surgery. Researchers then look at the effects of the immune system on the tumor to see if there’s an immune response. So far, 8 patients have participated in this trial, and all cases have been successful with no serious side effects from the vaccine.

Christian Burian, a 48-year-old father of 2 from Long Island, was diagnosed with HPV-related throat cancer after tenderness on the left side of his neck progressed to a lump the size of a grape just under his chin within a few months. Doctors then discovered that the cancer had spread to 3 of his lymph nodes. Burian opted to participate in phase I of the clinical trial, receiving the vaccine before minimally invasive robotic surgery to remove the cancer.

“I had no second thoughts about trying the vaccine. It was of minimal risk to me. There’s a significant possibility of a long-term benefit by stimulating the immune system, and I’m excited to help contribute to medical science,” said Burian, who has since recovered from the cancer surgery and radiation with no adverse effects from the vaccine.

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