Celldex Therapy Extends Life for Those With Brain Cancer

  • Five of 36 treated patients survived after two years
  • None of brain cancer patients who didn't get drug survived

Celldex Therapeutics Inc.’s cancer vaccine lengthened some patients’ lives in a midstage trial, potentially giving hope for treatment of a brain cancer that has no effective options for patients.

Five of the 36 patients with relapsed glioblastoma, a brain tumor, lived at least two years after starting therapy with Celldex’s treatment, known as Rintega, plus the cancer drug Avastin, the company said Friday in a statement. None of the patients who were taking Avastin alone lived that long.

Celldex shares jumped 17 percent to $16.95 at 2:52 p.m. in New York trading.

Rintega is a vaccine that primes the body to fight a form of glioblastoma that occurs in about one of three cases, according to David Reardon, a doctor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who led the study. When patients who have the cancer are treated and it returns, there are no therapies that have been shown to lengthen life, Reardon said.

“This is the first randomized study for this indication, glioblastoma, to show that immunotherapy can make a difference in this disease,” Reardon said Thursday in a telephone interview. “Many of us are very excited. For a number of reasons, this provides some proof of principle that immunotherapy can help brain cancer.” Immunotherapy is an approach to fighting cancer that uses the power of the body’s immune system, related to how a vaccine helps the immune system recognize and attack disease.

Survival Rates

The study looked at 73 patients randomly assigned to take either Rintega and Roche Holding AG’s Avastin or a placebo and Avastin. Among the group on Rintega, 44 percent lived through the first year, while only 32 percent of those in the control group did. That difference was significant, according to Reardon.

Glioblastoma is an especially deadly form of cancer, with about 13,000 new cases every year in the U.S., according tothe U.S. National Institutes of Health. More than 96 percent of patients die within five years of diagnosis.

“This is a terribly challenging tumor and the most malignant and aggressive that we deal with in our surgery,” Ian Dunn, a brain surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said Thursday in an interview. The study authors “have really provided some exciting data in this very challenging population that really draws on, and is an extension of, their commitment to how the immune system can be revved up to fight cancers of the brain.”

Immune-system-based cancer treatments have had positive results in skin and lung cancers. “It’s traditionally been thought to be even more challenging in the brain,” Dunn said. But the evidence suggests “that the vaccination has been effective in this case.”

Patients on Rintega showed other positive responses: more of them were able to stop taking steroids for their disease, and more saw their tumors reduce in size, compared with those on placebo. There were no serious side effects attributed to the drug, according to the study.

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