BOSTON (CBS) – Thomas Farrington was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 2000. He underwent radiation therapy and was considered cancer free, but nine years later, it came back. “A recurrence is what no prostate cancer survivor wants to hear,” Farrington says. “Because when you have a recurrence of disease it’s like being diagnosed the first time. In fact, it’s worse because you’re not sure what your options are.”
What happened to Farrington is not uncommon. In fact, in patients with intermediate to high risk prostate cancer, there’s about a 30% chance of recurrence down the road.
To stop this trend, Advantagene, a biotech company based in Newton, Massachusetts developed a prostate cancer vaccine.
Unlike traditional vaccines which try to prevent disease, ProstAtak is designed to prevent cancer from coming back. Dr. Estuardo Aguilar, the CEO of Advantagene explains, “It’s like putting the tools into the tumor so that the body itself can create a vaccine against that specific tumor.”
“We’re actually giving a gene,” says Dr. Mitchell Sokoloff, the Chair of Urology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “We’re putting it into the prostate. It produces a protein or molecule and then we give a drug which targets that molecule. You’re treating that patient’s cancer with a self-destruct button.”
Patients receive a series of three injections into the prostate followed by oral pills. In early studies, the drug was found to reduce recurrence by up to seventy-five percent. Now patients are being recruited for a larger clinical trial, including at UMass Medical School. “I’m extremely excited about trials like this,” says Dr. Sokoloff, “because as a surgeon and as someone who treats prostate cancer and you do the best surgery and you have the best patient possible, there’s still this 25-30% chance of recurrence.”
Dr. Aguilar has been working on the vaccine for more than twenty years. “What could make my life successful as far as I’m concerned is if we can make a difference,” he says.
Farrington, who now heads the Prostate Health Education Network, says it could have made a difference for him. “I would have loved this treatment,” he says. “I would have taken this treatment.”
If the trial goes well, Advantagene expects to get FDA approval within the next few years. UMass Medical School, the only New England site involved, is still recruiting patients.
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