Cell Genesys Drug May Help Body Learn to Fight Cancer

A Cell Genesys Inc. study of 56 patients suggests the immune system may be taught to recognize cancer as a threat and hunt it down in the body, a researcher said today.

About 76 percent of people given Cell Genesys Inc.'s Gvax drug in the study lived at least two years, according to a statement from Johns Hopkins University. Other studies have found that fewer than half of people with pancreatic cancer live as long as two years, the researchers said. The trial didn't compare Gvax with a placebo or another drug, as regulators often demand for approval.

Scientists have been trying for decades to create so-called cancer ``vaccines'' to prompt the immune system to wipe out tumors. Companies ranging from the world's third-biggest drugmaker, Sanofi-Aventis SA, to unprofitable Dendreon Corp. (DNDN) have tested vaccines. The American Association of Cancer Research highlighted Cell Genesys's work at a meeting today in Philadelphia.

``This is preliminary, but it is another piece of the puzzle,'' said Daniel Laheru, the study's author and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University's Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, in a telephone interview yesterday.

Cell Genesys shares rose 25 cents, or 4.6 percent, to $5.74 as of 4:00 p.m. on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Before today, the stock had fallen 29 percent this year. Cell Genesys, founded in 1988, hasn't yet developed a product.

Immune System

The Cell Genesys vaccine is intended to find and kill pancreatic cancer cells that persist after surgery and radiation. More than 32,000 Americans will learn this year that they have pancreatic cancer, the American Cancer Society's Web site said.

Cancer of the pancreas, an insulin-producing gland tucked deep in the abdomen, is rarely diagnosed before it has spread. Surgeons remove the tumors and then try radiation and other approaches to kill stray tumor cells.

It's difficult to explain to patients how the immune system can target cancer, Laheru said.

``They say `If my immune system was so smart, why did I get cancer in the first place?''' Laheru said.

Cell Genesys has moved its Gvax treatment into the third and final stage of testing as a prostate cancer treatment. The research presented at the Philadelphia meeting is from the second stage of testing and will need to be confirmed in a larger study, said Laheru, who treats patients with pancreatic cancer.

``I don't want anyone to be fooled'' into thinking his research proves a benefit for Gvax, he said.

Cell Genesys's third-quarter net loss widened to $27.3 million, or 60 cents a share, from $24 million, or 54 cents a share, a year earlier.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kerry Dooley Young in Washington at kdooley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robert Simison at rsimison@bloomberg.net.

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