Vaccine Boosts Response To Prostate Cancer Therapy

Dr. Robert S. DiPaola Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey New Brunswick, NJ 08901 Interview with:
Dr. Robert S. DiPaola
Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
New Brunswick, NJ 08901


Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. DiPaola: Despite significant recent improvements in the treatment of advanced castration-resistant prostate cancer, there remains a need for a standard therapy for those patients who have an early relapse with PSA progression after local therapy. Immune therapy with poxvirus vaccines are optimal, because they can induce potent immune responses by mimicking natural infection, have great flexibility regarding antigen composition and are easily administered.

ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group investigators conducted a Phase II clinical trial examining adult patients from member institutions with advanced prostate cancer (as evidenced by two rising prostate-specific antigen or PSA values and no visible metastasis) who had prior surgery or radiation. We explored two different experimental treatment options.

In step one, patients were treated with PROSTVAC-V/TRICOM and PROSTVAC-F/TRICOM. PROSTVAC-V is derived from a vaccinia virus that was used for many years to vaccinate against smallpox. This virus is modified to produce a PSA protein that helps focus the body’s immune response to the PSA in the prostate tumor. In addition, it is modified to produce three other proteins that help increase an immune cell’s ability to destroy its target (TRICOM). PROSTVAC-F is made from the fowlpox virus, which is found in birds and not known to cause any human disease. It contains the same genetic material as PROSTAC-V, but is given multiple times to further boost the body’s immune system.

Patients in the study were given one cycle of PROSTVAC-V/TRICOM followed by PROSTVAC-F/TRICOM for subsequent cycles in combination with a drug known as GM-CSF. GM-CSF is a protein normally made by the body to increase the amount of certain white blood cells and make them more active. When in drug form, it is used to boost the body’s immune system to fight off disease. After six months from first treatment, 25 of 40 eligible patients (63 percent) were found to have no disease progression and experienced minimal toxicity. The rate of rise of PSA also decreased. The second part of the study included the addition of hormone therapy (androgen ablation) to the PROSTVAC-VF/TRICOM combination. In the 27 patients eligible for this step, 20 patients (74 percent) experienced a significant response at seven months.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. DiPaola: Previous studies by the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group and others have shown it is optimal to explore agents like PROSTVAC that harness the body’s own defenses in shutting down cancer. What we’ve learned from this study is that vaccine therapy can be considered in further studies earlier in the course of prostate cancer progression in those whose disease has not metastasized.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. DiPaola: With our current findings demonstrating the safe use of this combination vaccine therapy earlier in the course of prostate cancer progression, we are laying the groundwork for future immunotherapy options for this patient population, and we should continue to explore such vaccine approaches in patients with minimal disease burden in clinical trials.


A National Multicenter Phase 2 Study of Prostate-specific Antigen (PSA) Pox Virus Vaccine with Sequential Androgen Ablation Therapy in Patients with PSA Progression: ECOG 9802

European Urology

Available online 18 December 2014