New prostate cancer vaccine on the horizon

LOS ANGELES "This would represent the first of its kind to be approved," said Dr. Don Diamond, City of Hope.

City of Hope researchers say of all the cancer vaccines being investigated, Provenge shows the most promise.

The vaccine will help the 100,000 men whose late stage prostate cancer spreads throughout the body. The vaccine boosted the median survival time by four months. And men in the placebo groups survived 22 months compared to 26 months in the Provenge group.

"The people it treats are really sick and they don't have any choices right now," said Dr. Diamond.

Advanced stage prostate cancer has a limited response to chemo, radiation and surgery is not an option.

Doctors will take tissue samples from the patient's tumor and send it to vaccine manufacturers. The vaccine bolsters the immune system to fight the cancer.

Experts estimate one course will cost about $50,000 to $75,000.

"The downsides of the vaccine are that it is exceedingly expensive, and only provides a modest improvement in survival," said Dr. Joshua Ellenhorn, City of Hope.

Experts argue prolonging a person's life even if it's just for four months can make a big difference. Extending survival is always the first step.

"Perhaps in that time frame when Provenge is active other treatments would come of age," said Dr. Diamond. "You would only be able to benefit if you were alive."

The FDA will consider approving Provenge later this week. Researchers are hopeful this will open the door for other cancer vaccines to get the green light as well.

Experimental vaccines for melanoma and lymphoma have shown survival benefits similar to Provenge and could be close to approval as well. Approximately 200,000 American men are diagnosed prostate cancer each year. The disease kills about 27,000.

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