06/11/08 — County pilots cancer vaccine

View Archive

County pilots cancer vaccine

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 11, 2008 1:47 PM

A landmark clinical trial for melanoma patients is being touted as a positive alternative to chemotherapy, with Goldsboro having the only site in the state offering the experimental vaccine.

Dr. James Atkins of Southeastern Medical Oncology Center said today he is excited about the possibilities the international study offers.

"It's a vaccine trying to harness the immune system, getting the immune system to help kill off melanoma cells," he said.

The "Vical Study" uses a drug called allovectin 7, Atkins said. Begun over six months ago, it is in phase three -- phase one involved animal testing and determining safety of the drug, while phase two dealt more with the human response.

Phase three, he explained, allows the drug to be used and compared to whatever former methods existed.

"As soon as this trial is done, if the trial is positive, that data would be submitted to the FDA (for approval)," he said.

As of yet, no patients are participating in the trial locally, Atkins said.

"There are not any that are eligible ... but there will be some folks, I'm sure, that will be able to go on it," he said, adding that, "We have had some call in and ask about it."

There are criteria and eligibility requirements to enroll, he added.

"People have to have a lesion that's injectable ... they have to have a lesion that we can actually stick a needle into," he said. "The study (also) requires people not to have previous chemotherapy."

As with any cancer trials, it's vital to get the word out and educate the public of its availability.

Some success is already being seen with the latest treatment option, with Atkins hopeful that this will be at least "a small step forward" for patients with recurrent melanoma.

"Early studies have shown that this drug is very well tolerated, so it does not appear to be toxic," he said. "Some people have had some very good responses that have lasted a long time. Some of the early data looks very exciting. It's a very promising drug. ...

"Even with other lesions that we don't even treat, they're shrinking up."

With the outcome of the latest clinical trial still unknown, Atkins remains philosophical.

"Today's research is tomorrow's cure," he said. "Every step forward is progress."