By Fran Berger - Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent

For men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, available treatments run the gamut from radiation, hormonal and chemotherapy to a costly new-to-the market, first-generation prostate cancer vaccine.

Now, thanks to a $1 million challenge award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) are on a quest to combine their cancer immunology expertise with nanotechnology to develop the next generation of vaccine or “immunotherapy” for prostate cancer – one that aims to be affordable, accessible and easy to administer.

“This will be a team effort combining the expertise of Harvard faculty at BIDMC with the best talent nationwide, bridging clinical medicine with basic science and innovative biotechnology,” says Dr. Martin Sanda, Director of the Prostate Cancer Program at BIDMC.

Dr. Sanda, a urologist, will oversee the project together with Simo Arredouani, PhD., a prostate cancer immunologist at BIDMC. They will be joined by Joseph DeSimone, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Jonathan Smith, Ph.D., a vaccine scientist at Liquidia Technologies, and Dr. Charles Drake, an oncologist and prostate immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmell Cancer Center.

“This collaborative science approach is the cornerstone of developing effective new cancer therapies for a disease that is responsible for 30,000 deaths per year,” says Dr. Sanda.

This past year, the FDA approved the use of the first vaccine to treat prostate cancer. “This development was very exciting,” says Dr. Arredouani, who is the co-leader of the Nanoparticle Prostate Cancer Vaccine Consortium.  “It was the first time the FDA recognized one can harness the patient’s own immune system to fight prostate cancer.”

But the methodology to create the current vaccine has a price tag that is out of reach for most patients.

“It is a cell-based vaccine, using a patient’s own blood to collect immune cells, manipulate them in tissue culture, and then infuse them back into the patient,” says Dr. Arredouani. “And it tops $90,000 per treatment.”

“What we are developing is a vaccine that would be pre-formulated, that comes packaged from the pharmacy and ready to give,” says Dr. Sanda.

Rather than customizing the vaccine patient-by-patient, “we plan to create a vaccine using synthetic peptides, or small pieces of proteins, that can be manufactured inexpensively,” says Dr. Arredouani. “The goal is to generate a panel of vaccines so that patients could receive a vaccine in which the manufactured peptides would be identical to those in an individual patient’s tumor, thereby preserving the strategy of ‘individualized’ or ‘personalized’ immunotherapy.”

The vaccine will not target the tumor cells directly, but will work on the immune system to allow it expand, identify, and destroy the tumor cells.

All men with prostate cancer have certain proteins in their tumors that are not present in other tissues and those peptides exist only in prostate tumors.

“From the long list of peptides we’ve identified, we want to learn which ones will induce a robust immune response,” Dr. Arredouani says.

And, he adds, since previous attempts have not been able to eradicate cancer using peptides alone, “we need to reinforce them with additional components or adjuvants to enhance the effects.”

As with peptides, there is also a long list of adjuvants to choose from and finding the most effective combinations is another component the team will tackle.

Next Steps

There is a long way to go, says Dr. Sanda.

“Once the desired response is achieved in the laboratory, the peptides will be tested on genetically modified mice to emulate a human immune response. Success there would eventually lead to clinical trials.”

The ultimate goal, says Dr. Sanda, is to develop something that would fight advanced prostate cancer and eliminate it throughout the body, with fewer side effects than hormonal treatments or chemotherapy.

Dr. Sanda points out that in addition to this Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) Challenge Award, another team at BIDMC, led by Dr. Steve Balk in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, has also received a Challenge Award from the PCF.  Their consortium work will focus on researching why patients with advanced stage cancer invariably become resistant to drugs administered following chemotherapy.

“BIDMC was the only hospital in Boston to receive the prestigious PCF Challenge Award in 2011 and was the only institution nationwide to be awarded two Prostate Cancer Foundation Awards this year, from among the scores of institutions that applied,” Dr. Sanda says.  “We are very excited about what our consortium will be able to accomplish.  It takes a team to really make quantum leaps in terms of cancer care.”

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

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