‘Fresh hope’ for brain cancer patients as vaccine extends survival in trial

A vaccine is prepared by a nurse (File picture)  (PA Archive)
A vaccine is prepared by a nurse (File picture) (PA Archive)

A vaccine trialled at a London hospital has been found to significantly prolong life in patients with aggressive brain tumours.

The DCVAX-L, trialled at King’s College Hospital and other centres around the world, can extend survival for patients with recurrent glioblastoma for several months or years.

It is the first time in 27 years that any treatment has been shown to extend survival in recurrent glioblastoma and offers “fresh hope” to those battling the disease, researchers said.

Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of brain tumour in adults. Around 2,200 cases are diagnosed each year in England, according to Brain Research UK.

The eight-year trial involved more than 300 patients from the UK, USA, Canada and Germany – all of whom had been diagnosed with glioblastoma. Two-thirds were given the vaccine while the remainder received a placebo.

Patients with a new glioblastoma diagnosis who were treated with the vaccine survived 19.3 months on average from randomisation, compared to 16.5 months for the control group.

Those with recurrent glioblastoma who were treated with the vaccine survived 13.2 months on average, compared to 7.8 months for the control group.

Thirteen per cent of patients treated with the vaccine survived at least five years from diagnosis, compared to 5.7 per cent in the control group. The longest survivor surpassed eight years.

The vaccine is created for each patient individually by isolating specific immune cells, known as dendritic cells, from their blood. These cells are then primed with biomarkers from a sample of the patient’s tumour. When the vaccine containing the cells is injected back into the patient, it shares that information so that the body’s entire immune system recognises and attacks the target.

All of the participants in the trial underwent the standard treatment for glioblastoma of surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The vast majority of patients reported no side-effects, setting the treatment apart from chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Just five of the 331 who took part reported adverse side effects, which may have been related to their other treatment.

Professor Ashkan, Professor of Neurosurgery at King’s College Hospital, and European Chief Investigator of the clinical trial, said: “Immunotherapy is a very promising approach for treating cancer, and the final results of this phase 3 trial, now unblinded and published, offer fresh hope to patients battling with glioblastoma.

“The vaccine was shown to prolong life, and interestingly so in patients traditionally considered to have poorer prognosis.

“For example, we see clear benefits in the older patient groups as well as in those patients in whom radical surgery was not possible for technical or other reasons.”

He added: “Applying the same technology to develop treatments for other forms of brain tumours will be the natural next step.”