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Panel Evaluates Prostate Cancer Vaccine

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Panel Evaluates Prostate Cancer Vaccine

Health Care

Panel Evaluates Prostate Cancer Vaccine

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today in Your Health: Restless legs syndrome, a creepy feeling that gives people an irresistible urge to move their legs. But you can stand up and stretch for a moment before that report comes around because first we have a possible new treatment for prostate cancer.

Today, an expert panel will consider a vaccine for men who have advanced prostate cancer. The panel is evaluating the vaccine for the Food and Drug Administration.

As NPR's Joanne Silberner reports, the decision may not be easy.

JOANNE SILBERNER: The product is called Provenge, made by a company called Dendreon. It's called a vaccine because it stimulates the immune system. But unlike other vaccines that prevent disease, this one is given to help stop disease in someone who's already sick.

David Penson is a urologist at the University of Southern California's Medical School, who's been studying the drugs for the company.

Dr. DAVID PENSON (Urology, University of Southern California): What this is is a personalized medicine. The patient's own immune cells, his white blood cells, are taken out of his body and they're given an agent which activates them, and activates them to attack the patient's prostate cancer cells.

SILBERNER: Penson gave the treatment to patients who were part of a clinical trial. A total of a 147 men got three intravenous infusions of the vaccine over a period of a month. Others received a placebo. Penson is bullish on Provenge, but only for the type of men it was tested on.

Dr. PENSON: These are men who have cancer which has spread all over their body and which no longer responds to the traditional hormonal therapy.

SILBERNER: In two studies there were a few, if any, side effects. The drug did not do any better than the placebo on slowing the progression of the cancer. There did seem to be a difference in survival, an extra four months with the drug. But because of problems with the way the studies were designed, FDA analysts suspect that improvement in men who got the drug might not hold up in further research.

USC's David Penson is concerned that a no-vote by the committee could discourage the development of similar drugs. He's faced with desperate patients and he doesn't want to see drug companies lose interest.

Dr. PENSON: This is the first step, and there will be a second and third generation immunotherapeutic agent, which will be more effective than this one.

SILBERNER: Christopher Saigal is a urologist at the University of California at Los Angeles and has no links to the company or the studies. He says because he wants to offer his patients some ray of hope, he's not concerned about the lack of an effect on the progression of the cancer.

Dr. CHRISTOPHER SAIGAL (Urology, University of California Los Angeles): If it doesn't give them that benefit, they haven't incurred a lot in a way of additional illness.

SILBERNER: Cost could be an issue, especially for men without full insurance. Several of the new cancer drugs that provide a few weeks or months of extra life costs several thousand dollars a month. Dendreon officials aren't saying how much they might charge for Provenge if it is ultimately approved. The FDA's final decision is due by May 15.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

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