Video: Breakthrough cancer therapy approved

  1. Closed captioning of: Breakthrough cancer therapy approved

    >> mark potter , thanks.

    >>> we turn our attention now to what can genuinely be described as a breakthrough in the fight against cancer. the news today that the fda has approved a vaccine for prostate cancer . it doesn't prevent the disease, so vaccine is a bit of a misnoner, but it does do something scientists have been trying to achieve for decades and it could be a game-changer. our report from our chief science correspondent robert bazell .

    >> reporter: though it is called a vaccine, it is actually a treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer . scientists have been trying for decades to harvest the body's immune system to fight all kinds of cancer and this is the first success.

    >> it's exciting because this vaccine or immunotherapy works in a totally different way and complements the existing therapies we have.

    >> reporter: linn was one of the last to enroll in the clinical trial. he got his last treatment today.

    >> as of this morning, i would say it's a success. i woke up today feeling the best i have felt in probably three or four months.

    >> reporter: in a three-year period, on average, men getting the vaccine ij survived just over four months longer than those not getting it. all the volunteers had very advanced cancer. experts say if the treatment is given earlier in the disease, the survival benefit could be greater. the treatment has few side effects , especially compared to the hormone and chemotherapy usually given for advanced prostate cancer . it will be expensive, more than $09,000 a patient for the three doses. one reason for the cost is that the vaccine is custom-made for each patient. doctors remove disease's fighting white blood cells from the patient. they ship these to the manufacturer, dendreon in seattlele, where the cells are combined with the cancer protein to make them attack the cancer cells . the company then ships them back so they can be reinfused in the patients. scientists are hopeful this will be the first of many vaccines, brian, to treat many different kinds of cancers.

    >> a genuine breakthrough. we were saying today, men of financial means are going to just want this now. men without the money, the extraordinary price tag are going to hope that insurance covers this. this is the cost of health care . where does this fit now with health care reform ?

    >> reporter: brian, there are many cancer drugs, biologicals, that are in this kind of price range now. it's a big problem that's facing our nation in terms of health care costs. right now, this vaccine is approved only for men with advanced cancer who failed on chemotherapy, failed on hormone therapy , but a lot of people are going to want it and it's going to set up a big ethical dilemma who gets it because especially at the beginning it's going to be in short supply.

    >> we'll continue to cover as it rolls out to market. bob bazell, thanks.

updated 4/29/2010 6:59:31 PM ET 2010-04-29T22:59:31

A first-of-a-kind prostate cancer treatment that uses the body's immune system to fight the disease received federal approval Thursday, offering an important alternative to more intensive treatments like chemotherapy.

Dendreon Corp.'s Provenge vaccine trains the immune system to fight tumors. It's called a "vaccine" even though it treats disease rather than prevents it.

Doctors have been trying to develop such a therapy for decades, and Provenge is the first to win approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

"The big news here is that this is the first immunotherapy to win approval, and I suspect within five to ten years immunotherapies will be a big part of cancer therapy in general," said Dr. Phil Kantoff, an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who helped run the studies of Provenge.

Experimental vaccines to treat other cancers — including the deadly skin disease melanoma and an often fatal childhood tumor called neuroblastoma — are already in late-stage development.

Currently doctors treat cancer by surgically removing tumors, attacking them with chemotherapy drugs or blasting them with radiation. Provenge offers an important fourth approach by directing the body's natural defense mechanisms against the disease.

The drug is intended to treat prostate cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body and is not responding to hormone therapy.

A milestone
Medical specialists hailed the approval as an important milestone, but stressed it will serve as an addition to current practice, not a replacement.

"This is just one step in a new pathway for treating patients," said Dr. Simon Hall, chairman of urology at Mt. Sinai Hospital "We have to make them realize this isn't a cure, it's very variable."

Company studies showed that taking Provenge added four months to the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer: What you need to knowThat may not sound like a lot, but it is longer than the three months afforded by Taxotere, the only chemotherapy approved for men in this situation. Doctors hope for even greater benefit if they give the drug earlier in the course of the disease.

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Dendreon would give no cost estimate for Provenge, but analyst estimates range from between $60,000 to $100,000.

The approval marks a remarkable turnaround for Seattle-based Dendreon, whose shares plummeted three years ago when the FDA delayed a decision on the therapy, asking for more proof of safety and effectiveness. That delay came despite an expert panel's recommendation for approval.

Dendreon shares jumped 19 percent to new highs ahead of the news, rising to an all-time high of $47.32. Trading of the stock was halted at 12:34 p.m. Eastern, 35 minutes before the FDA announced its decision. At the time, Dendreon shares were up $5.88, or 14.8 percent, at $45.50.

The company does not have any products on the market.

Tailored therapy
Analysts expect the product to reach blockbuster sales status — over $1 billion — by 2016, as the company expands production capacity.

Video: How prostate cancer therapy drug works

Each regimen of Provenge must to tailored to the immune system of the patient using a time-consuming formulation process.

Doctors collect special blood cells from each patient that help the immune system recognize cancer as a threat. The cells are mixed with a protein found on most prostate cancer cells and another substance to rev up the immune system. The resulting "vaccine" is given back to the patient as three infusions two weeks apart.

Initially, Dendreon will identify Provenge patients through the medical centers that helped test the drug. But researchers have been told the company will only be able to provide vaccines for a few patients at each site per month.

"There are going to be a lot of patients that want it and there will be limited resources as they are getting this up and running," said Dr. Deborah Bradley of Duke University School of Medicine

About 192,000 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in 2009, and 27,000 men died of the disease, according to the FDA. Prostate cancer most often affects older men.

Side effects of Provenge are relatively mild, such as chills, fatigue, fever, and headache. By comparison, side effects of chemotherapy typically include hair loss, nausea, anemia and diarrhea.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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