The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

July 10, 2003

UI Cancer Researchers Immunize Patients With Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Researchers at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa announced that they are enrolling patients in a clinical trial to explore the benefits of a personalized immunotherapy for follicular, low-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL).

As part of a North American clinical research study, the trial at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is testing a unique vaccine that uses each patient's own tumor cells to combat the cancer.

"Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a major form of cancer with 54,000 new cases and nearly 24,000 deaths in the United States each year," said Brian Link, M.D., a cancer specialist at Holden and an investigator on the trial. "With the incidence of the disease on the rise, we are hopeful that this technique for stimulating the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer will result in long-term disease remission for patients."

Approximately 600 patients are expected to participate in the North American study, being conducted at 30 institutions in the United States and Canada. Genitope Corporation, a biotechnology company based in Redwood City, Calif., is funding and sponsoring the study.

To be eligible for the study, patients must be diagnosed with follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and have not received treatment. If enrolled in the study, a small biopsy of their cancer will be taken, either from a lymph node, bone marrow or other site of lymphoma, and sent to Genitope Corporation to make a vaccine unique to each patient. Following a standard chemotherapy regimen, two-thirds of patients will receive a series of seven subcutaneous injections of the vaccine crafted from their own tumor cells while one-third will receive a vaccine using a non-specific immune stimulant, which may also activate the immune system in a beneficial way.

This customized active immunotherapy is designed to target the tumor-specific marker or idiotype which, like a fingerprint, is unique to every lymphoma patient. Once injected, the vaccine is intended to direct the patient's own immune system to treat the tumor as a foreign invader and attack cells that have the idiotype protein on the surface, namely the cancer cells.

"Lymphoma, like other types of cancer, is difficult to treat because the immune system does not recognize the tumors as foreign invaders," said James Wooldridge, M.D., at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. "This personalized immunotherapy uses the patient's own tumor markers to awaken the body's defense system and activate memory, should new tumors arise."

Data from an earlier clinical trial showed that about two-thirds of patients treated with a similar personalized immunotherapy agent mounted specific, positive anti-tumor immune responses. The goal of the current Phase 3 clinical research trial is to demonstrate a significant improvement in the time-to-disease progression in those treated with the cancer vaccine compared to a control group.

The incidence of NHL has increased significantly in the past 20 years, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation of America. There are 250,000 NHL patients in the United States, making it the fifth most common cancer. Although standard treatments such as chemotherapy can reduce the tumor mass in patients with low-grade lymphoma, chemotherapy-induced remissions rarely last, and cancer patients can become resistant to chemotherapy over time.

Patients interested in learning more about the NHL trial can call toll free 800-237-1225 for more information or visit the Holden's web site at http://www.uihealthcare.com/depts/cancercenter.

In a similar trial at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center headed by Margarida Silverman, M.D., a patient-specific vaccine will be administered to patients with low-grade or mantle cell lymphoma after they have had a bone marrow transplant. Silverman's trial is being conducted in collaboration with investigators at the University of California in San Diego.

Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is Iowa's only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers are recognized as the leaders in developing new approaches to cancer prevention and cancer care, conducting leading edge research and educating the public about cancer.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at http://www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room 8798 JPP, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

CONTACT(S): Tom Moore, 319-356-3945, thomas-moore@uiowa.edu.