An immunotherapy is a treatment designed to help your own immune system fight disease. Vaccines are one type of immunotherapy. Some vaccines (such as the flu vaccine) can help prevent disease. Other vaccines are therapeutic — designed to treat a disease after you already have it.
Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of Neurosurgery at Roswell Park, and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, have developed a therapeutic cancer vaccine for glioblastoma, a type of aggressive brain tumor. The vaccine is called SurVaxM.
How does it work? Glioblastomas and most other types of cancer produce a molecule called survivin, which helps the cancer cells survive. SurVaxM stimulates the patient’s immune system to produce white blood cells that can attack and kill any cells that contain survivin, thus shutting down the cancer’s survivin lifeline.
SurVaxM is given as an injection in the arm after the patient has had surgery and completed radiation treatments. The patient receives four injections over a period of six weeks, followed by one every three months after that for as long as the vaccine continues to keep the disease in check.
The vaccine was first tested in a phase I clinical trial in 2012 to demonstrate its safety in patients. Based on the results of that clinical trial, the FDA approved a phase 2 clinical trial at five centers to evaluate whether the treatment works. The results of the latest trial, reported at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 2019, showed that the vaccine, when combined with standard therapy, resulted in significantly longer survival — as well as longer survival before the disease got worse — compared with standard therapy alone.
SurVaxM is offered to eligible patients through clinical trials at Roswell Park and may also be available for compassionate use, which is the ability to use a drug that is not yet FDA-approved to treat a patient who is very ill and who is not eligible for any other treatments, including through clinical trials.
SurVaxM is also being evaluated in phase 1 study of patients with multiple myeloma.