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Cancer Vaccines with Potential

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When Dendreon came out with its prostate cancer vaccine Provenge, researchers jumped on the vaccine bandwagon and Wall Street salivated at the thought of the billions of dollars it was going to make, says Robert Langreth at the Forbes Treatments blog. But the complicated preparation for the treatment and the $93,000 price tag — not to mention confusion over how it works since it extends life without slowing tumor growth — have caused big pharmaceutical companies to shy away from trying to develop a vaccine of their own, Langreth adds. However, says Martin Cheever, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, there are two lung cancer vaccines in development that could cement the future of these controversial treatments. Both vaccines target lung cancer, Langreth says — one from GlaxoSmithKline uses a protein called MAGE-A3, which is found on lung cancer cells; and one from Seattle biotech Oncothyreon called Stimuvax, which aims to stimulate a patient's immune system to attack the MUC-1 protein fragment found in several kinds of cancer, including lung. Cheever says Glaxo's vaccine is "one of the best." In second-stage lung cancer patients who had their tumors surgically removed, the vaccine cut the risk of relapse after 28 months by 27 percent, Langreth says. Trials of Stimuvax also show trends towards higher survival rates, he adds.

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