Monday, February 17, 2014

A Vaccine To Treat Prostate Cancer Offers Hope for Advanced Cancer

Charles Drake, MD, PhD
Scientists studying many forms of cancer believe that cancer vaccines – which boost the body's immune system so that it can lead a "home front" strike against cancer cells – hold great promise.
GVAX Prostate is a cell-based vaccine, originally developed at Johns Hopkins, that may help the body target and kill prostate cancer cells. 
By itself, GVAX is not enough to vanquish metastatic prostate cancer.  Thus, scientists have been studying ways to combine it with other forms of immune-based therapy to create a multi-pronged attack. Initial, pre-clinical studies demonstrate when immune-modulators are coupled with GVAX, "one can see significant anti-tumor effects," according to Dr. Charles Drake.[1]  Recently, it has been shown by Dr Drake and colleagues that conventional hormone therapy [gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists or antagonists] can further boost the anti-tumor immune response, especially when combined with cancer vaccines such as GVAX.
"The combined approach boosts the immune system in two ways."
Following from these promising laboratory results, Dr Drake has teamed up with Dr Emmanuel Antonarakis, a clinical oncologist, to conduct a clinical trial testing the combination of GVAX plus hormone therapy in men with localized prostate cancer who have elected to undergo radical prostatectomy.

Emmanuel Antonarakis, MD

Neoadjuvant trial of GVAX vaccine for intermediate- and high-risk localized prostate cancer

The GVAX Clinical Trial is being run by Dr. Emmanuel Antonarakis and Dr. Drake.  Patients are randomized to (A) degarelix (a GnRH receptor blocker or hormone treatment for advanced prostate cancer) and radical prostatectomy; or (B) GVAX, degarelix and radical prostatectomy.  Patients must have:

  • Clinically localized (cT1c-cT3bN0M0) prostate cancer
  • Gleason sum 7-10
  • At least 2 positive cores on biopsy
  • No 5-alpha reductase inhibitor use (finasteride, dutasteride)
  • No autoimmune diseases requiring immunosuppresion

The trial is currently open and interested patients and physicians should contact the Brady Urological Clinic 410-955-6100 or the Prostate Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at Johns Hopkins 410-502-8000 for an appointment.  In addition, the direct phone number to speak to the GVAX Research Nurse is 443-287-7841.

Written in part by Emmanuel Antonarakis and extracted from "Vaccine Therapy for Prostate Cancer: Following the Recipe is Important."  in Prostate Cancer Discovery: A Publication of the Patrick C. Walsh Prostate Cancer Research Fund, Volume 10, Winter 2014.

To view the entire publication click here.

[1] Wada S, Jackson CM, Yoshimura K, Yen HR, Getnet D, Harris TJ, Goldberg MV, Bruno TC, Grosso JF, Durham N, Netto GJ, Pardoll DM, Drake CG.Sequencing CTLA-4 blockade with cell-based immunotherapy for prostate cancer.J Transl Med. 2013 Apr 4;11:89. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-11-89.


  1. Being able to have some sort of vaccine for prostate cancer is incredible. It really sounds like there are a lot of things that makes for a better chance of the cancer to not develop. I know that in my family prostate cancer is a threat, but this is a great development.

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