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Too early to get excited over cancer vaccine

Jun 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

vaccineMAIN1WOMEN will have at least a 20-year wait for a breast cancer vaccine to evolve out of the US trials reported this week, says a leading Wellington radiologist.

The research, on laboratory mice, won’t lead to a vaccine for women for at least 20 years, if at all, says Madeleine Wall, former clinical leader of Breast Screen Aotearoa.

She believes this is a case of “research hype to get big pharmaceutical companies interested. Clinical trials cost a lot of money, and publicity can help get investors on board.”

This new vaccine – developed at the Lerner Research Institute in Cleveland, Ohio – has not even moved to phase one safety trials in humans, says Dr Wall.


Dr Wall

If it is safe, it will go to phase two trials to test efficacy. Phase three trials must then show the vaccine works better than existing treatments.

She says this vaccine is unusual in that its purpose is to prevent breast cancers developing, compared with the majority of cancer vaccines being tested, which attempt to kill or reduce the size of existing cancers.

To test this vaccine in humans, a group of women at very high risk of developing breast cancer will be divided into a group who receive the vaccine and a group who will not.

If anyone in the non-vaccine group goes on to develop cancer as expected, they will receive the standard available treatment.

If those in the vaccinated group do not go on to develop cancer, the vaccine will have worked.

She says the problem is that even in this very high risk category – women between 30 and 50 with the breast cancer gene or strongest family history – the trial would have to continue for up to 20 years to prove the vaccine works.

The vaccine targets the alpha-lactalbumin protein, which is only present in the majority of breast cancers, and in lactating women.

This is a potential downside for women hoping to breastfeed if the vaccine comes to market. Fortunately, breast cancer is uncommon in women of premenopausal age.

However, those who could potentially benefit most from a preventive vaccine are women with a very strong family history. Dr Wall says if these women develop breast cancer it is during their child-bearing years.

In the last 10 years, in the United States alone, there were 645 clinical trials for cancer vaccines.

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is a student at Whitireia studying the National Diploma in Journalism (Multimedia).
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