Experimental lymphoma vaccine tested at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center

July 18, 2001

Researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center are seeking volunteers for a final phase clinical trial that will test the safety and effectiveness of individually tailored vaccines to fight a common type of lymphoma.

The vaccines will be manufactured to target proteins unique to each patient's lymphoma, said Dr. Christos Emmanouilides, director of the Clinical Lymphoma Research Program at the Jonsson Cancer Center and principal investigator for the multi-center study.

UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center is the only institution in Southern California to offer this experimental vaccine therapy, researchers said.

The vaccine therapy, which will be combined with chemotherapy, has prompted encouraging results in earlier phase studies of about 100 people conducted at Stanford University, Emmanouilides said. To qualify for the study, volunteers should have untreated follicular lymphoma, a common form of cancer of the lymph nodes.

This type of lymphoma is considered incurable in most cases, Emmanouilides said. By the time it's diagnosed, the cancer often has spread to many lymph node groups or other organs. It can be manageable, but a cure is rare. However, the vaccine may provide some hope, he said.

"This may give us a new system to fight it," Emmanouilides said. "It's an exciting concept."

Volunteers for the study will have a sample of their cancerous tissue removed during a needle biopsy. That sample will be used to manufacture the vaccine. Volunteers will undergo eight rounds of chemotherapy and then will be injected with the individually tailored vaccine, which researchers hope will prompt the body's immune system to fight off the cancer while leaving healthy cells alone. Volunteers must undergo five weekly injections of the vaccine.

The injections will be done at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center. However, volunteers can get the chemotherapy at oncology offices in their own communities, Emmanouilides said.

In previous studies of the vaccine, patients remained in remission much longer than expected, Emmanouilides said. The Phase III randomized study -- the last phase of testing before a drug is submitted for approval -- is expected to last from one to two years.

Two-thirds of the study volunteers will receive chemotherapy and the individually manufactured vaccines. The remaining third will receive chemotherapy and a non-specific immune system stimulant, Emmanouilides said. All study volunteers will receive the chemotherapy regimen considered the conventional treatment for lymphoma, so treatment is not compromised.

In all, UCLA hopes to recruit more than 50 volunteers to participate in the study.

"This study will give us the opportunity to confirm the very encouraging Phase II results seen at Stanford," Emmanouilides said. "And it will allow us to provide a very sophisticated treatment for our patients."

Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in the lymphatic tissue. The lymphatic system serves an important bodily function, filtering germs and cancer cells as well as fluid from the extremities and internal organs. This tissue is found in many places throughout the body, including lymph nodes, the thymus, the spleen, the tonsils and adenoids, in the bone marrow, and scattered within other systems such as the digestive and respiratory tracts.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 63,600 new cases of lymphoma will be diagnosed this year. About 27,600 people will die from the disease.
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For more information on the study, or to volunteer for the vaccine therapy, patients should call 310-825-2516 or 310-794-4376.

For more information about UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center, its people and resources, visit our Web site at http://www.cancer.mednet.ucla.edu.

University of California - Los Angeles

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