Stopping Cancer Before It Starts

Honduran Dr. Jose Mejia, left, and Col. George Peoples, Mobile Surgical Team, work together to perform surgery on a Honduran boy at Santa Teresa Hospital in Comayagua, Honduras. (By Air Force Staff Sgt. Bryan Franks)

An Army doctor has helped develop a vaccine that he believes will prevent cancer, or at least its recurrence.

The drug NeuVax began phase III clinical trials Jan. 20, which Col. George Peoples said could lead to its Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approval. Peoples is chief of surgical oncology at the San Antonio Military Medical Center when he’s not traveling the world to provide surgical expertise or working to try and find a cure for cancer.

He is currently deployed to Honduras.

The phase III clinical trial for NeuVax will involve at least 700 breast cancer patients at 100 sites in the United States and abroad. The trial is titled PRESENT, Prevention of Recurrence in Early-Stage, Node-Positive Breast Cancer with Low to Intermediate HER2 Expression with NeuVax Treatment.

Participants will receive one intradermal injection every month for six months, followed by a booster inoculation every six months thereafter. The primary endpoint is disease-free survival at three years.
“The first patient was vaccinated with NeuVax in January at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas,” Peoples said.

Peoples is the director and principal investigator for a Cancer Vaccine Development Program that he has been working on since the early 90s. The vaccine carries the generic name E75.

This third and final phase of testing before FDA approval will bring NeuVax one step closer to the market and to the breast cancer patients who need more options, Peoples said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 203,000 individuals in the United States are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year.

VACCINE MIGHT PREVENT OTHER CANCERS

Yes, there are ways to treat cancer, but why wait and treat, why not try to prevent? The desire to prevent disease, Peoples said, is what led to the eradication of smallpox and hopefully will lead to the eradication of polio.

“If you vaccinate enough people, you prevent the disease and it can no longer exist in the population; eventually it’s eradicated. So, if you believe that concept, then we need to figure out a way to prevent cancers, as opposed to detect them earlier or treat them better,” Peoples said.

He said one of the advantages of the new drug is the majority of cancers actually express some levels of the protein. It’s not exclusive to breast cancer, either, Peoples said.

TRULY PREVENTIVE VACCINE

A lot of times, he said, people actually do have cancer cells, or “cancer-esque” cells. It’s just they haven’t formed the cancer yet. And so those cells will theoretically be recognizable to the immune system, and can be affected by a vaccine.

“Ultimately, that is the goal – to provide a protective-type vaccine so that a person never actually develops the cancer,” Peoples said.

“So you could ultimately envision a vaccine that targets those critical proteins that are necessary for cancer to form. And if you have immunity, such that your body can recognize those proteins as soon as they show up, then theoretically, you could prevent a person from ever developing a cancer.”

“The good news is, I think those proteins are likely to be common proteins, shared among multiple cancer types,” he said.  “So, it wouldn’t be a cancer-specific vaccine, but a vaccine that would protect you against lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, etc.”

“I think that is theoretically possible, it’s just a matter of identifying the most useful antigens to target,” Peoples said.

Read the full story here

By Rob McIlvaine, www.army.mil

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