Caring Currents

New Lung Cancer Vaccine Quadruples Survival Time for Some

Last updated:

August 27, 2008

Hope. It's an all-too-rare word for those who're dealing with lung cancer, but this week came some hopeful news. If your parent or loved one has Stage III or Stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer (the most common kind), there's a new clinical trial starting this month that you'll want to ask his doctor about.

The treatment is a vaccine called Lucanix, which showed great promise in Phase II testing. Half of all the patients who entered the trial with the disease in stable condition lived more than 44 months -- more than four times as long as the 10-to-12-month survival rate for patients under the current standard of care. Those with advanced disease doubled their chances of surviving two years. That means if a patient has Stage III or IV lung cancer and qualifies for this trial, he could potentially increase his survival rate from one to almost four years. Who wouldn't want that chance?

The oncologist who ran the trial at Mary Crowley Medical Research Center in Texas was so excited, he commented, "In medical research, you see something like this once in a lifetime."

It's not often we hear encouraging news about lung cancer, which is so debilitating to live with and offers such limited treatment options. A friend put it better than I can: "It feels like my dad's getting sicker and sicker, and there's not much the doctors can do. He's had one lung partially removed, so he has trouble breathing, and the platinum chemotherapy is making him as sick as the cancer itself." That's not the case with this new treatment, which is a vaccine given by injection. In the previous trial, Lucanix didn't cause any significant side effects -- the biggest one reported was soreness at the injection site.

It's about time there's some good news about lung cancer, which claims more lives than breast, colon, prostate, and lymph node cancer combined. Unlike many other cancers, survival rates for lung cancer haven't improved in recent years, and 60 percent of those diagnosed die within a year.

The FDA was impressed enough with results from the Phase II clinical trial that it granted the vaccine's maker, a small company called NovaRx in San Diego, fast-track approval for the Phase III trial. The trial, which enrolled its first patient this week, will be conducted at 90 different clinical sites across America and will involve up to 700 patients. There are significant exclusion criteria, so it's not for every patient, but please -- ask your doctor about it if you think your parent or loved one might be a candidate.

Image by Flickr user *USB* used under the Creative Commons attribution license.