Clinical trials could lead to victory in war on cancer

Dr. Robert Aiken is the lead researcher in a clinical trial testing vaccines on glioblastomas at Overlook Medical Center in Summit.

SUMMIT, NJ — Overlook Medical Center in Summit was chosen as one of the first three sites in the country and the only one in New Jersey to participate in a clinical trial that will research a vaccine that targets the protein that keeps cancer cells alive in brain tumors, Atlantic Health System announced in a press release on Tuesday, Feb. 22. Sponsored by biotechnology company MimiVax, doctors at Overlook will treat patients who have been diagnosed with glioblastomas, hoping to give them a better chance at long-term survival. Dr. Robert Aiken will be the lead researcher on the trial at Overlook, assisted by Dr. Yaron Moshel.

“A cancer vaccine is more to prevent the reoccurrence,” Michael Ciesielski, the chief executive officer of MimiVax and a neuro-oncology researcher, said in a phone interview with Union County LocalSource on Friday, Feb. 25. “Once a patient is diagnosed, they typically have surgery to remove the tumor and then go through radiation and chemo. This is added.”

In earlier stages of the trial, Ciesielski said, patients have been getting the vaccine for several years. The vaccine is received in the arm in much the same manner as any other vaccine; doctors are trying to determine if it can immunize a patient against their own tumor, preventing it from returning in the future.

Aiken, who approached MimiVax about Overlook participating in the trial, said a vaccine won’t make patients feel as sick as typical cancer treatments often do. It will be given to patients every two weeks during a six-week period after radiation and chemotherapy, and then every two months for a 24-month period.

“Augmenting a person’s immune response might have an advantage over other regimens that can destroy the ability to fight off cancer,” Aiken said in a phone interview with LocalSource on Friday, Feb. 25. “I think there’s potential.”

Both Ciesielski and Moshel said glioblastoma research isn’t as widespread as research for other types of cancers, partly because glioblastoma is rarer than many other cancers.

“It’s a difficult disease, and we need to move the needle for these patients,” Moshel said. “People who got infected after surgery tended to do better later. Why are they surviving? I think that’s changed how we approach lung cancer and melanoma research. It hasn’t affected brain cancer yet, but that’s what this will do.”

The vaccine targets survivin, a cell survival protein that is found in 95 percent of glioblastomas and also in other types of cancers. According to Ciesielski, approximately 270 patients will be participating in the trial at sites throughout the country, beginning with 100 patients. The results of the trial will be analyzed, to determine whether the vaccines can move toward being submitted for approval by the FDA.

Aiken said the vaccine isn’t injected as far into a patient’s arm as a flu shot would be. It’s very easy to add it into an already-extensive care regimen for a glioblastoma patient.

“Unfortunately, we can’t treat everyone, because then we wouldn’t know if the trial worked,” he said. “It’s an easy add-on to the patient’s existing treatment. If we can find an immune response to their own tumor, that can make a big improvement.”

Photo Courtesy of Atlantic Health System