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Jonsson Cancer Center Researchers Seeking Volunteers with Advanced Kidney Cancer to Test Novel Vaccine
Posted Date: 8/27/2012 12:00 PM

Patients with advanced kidney cancer are being sought to volunteer for a Phase I clinical trial at UCLA testing a novel kidney cancer vaccine that was developed based on pre-clinical laboratory and basic research done at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The vaccine targets a marker that is differentially expressed in kidney cancer cells, said study principal investigator Dr. Fairooz Kabbinavar, a Jonsson Cancer Center scientist and medical director of the Thoracic Oncology and Kidney Cancer programs at UCLA.

“Six new drugs have been approved for kidney cancer since 2005, and while they are very effective, they do not cure patients with advanced disease,” Kabbinavar said. “This vaccine works in tandem with the patient’s own immune system, and we hope to see improved efficacy with significantly less toxicity.”

Researchers are seeking 20 volunteers with advanced disease to test the vaccine. Volunteers must have failed previous therapies to qualify for the study, which seeks to determine optimal dosage of the vaccine while monitoring for side effects. They’ll also be looking for evidence of immune system stimulation.

Study volunteers will receive three injections of the vaccine over a period of two weeks. For more information on the study, patients can call (310) 206-5930.

For many years, kidney cancer was thought to be resistant to drug therapy. Until about 2005, the only therapy approved to treat the disease was Interleukin-2, a drug so toxic that patients are hospitalized in an intensive care unit just to receive the drug. Only 20 percent of patients responded to the drug, and only about 7 percent experienced long-term remissions.

Doctors today know that kidney cancer is not just one disease, but a variety of subtypes that require different treatment approaches, such as the targeted vaccine being studied, Kabbinavar said.

All previous pre-clinical and animal model testing of the kidney cancer vaccine was done starting in 2000 in UCLA laboratories, an example of the bench-to-beside translational medicine for which the Jonsson Cancer Center has become known. The vaccine is composed of the gene CA9 and GM-CSF, a growth factor first purified in a Jonsson Cancer Center laboratory that increases the speed of bone marrow cell reproduction and, in this case, aids in the activation of dendritic cells in the patient, providing a prolonged boost to the immune system.

“The goal here is to mobilize the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer,” Kabbinavar said. “Generally, the immune system doesn’t recognize kidney cancer as a threat. With this vaccine, we hope to redirect the patient’s own immune cells to attack the kidney cancer cells bearing the CA9 marker.”

Side effects from the vaccine are not known, and neither is its efficacy in patients. However, in laboratory testing, mice with kidney cancer treated with the vaccine experienced tumor shrinkage.

Nearly 65,000 new cases of kidney cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year. Of those, more than 13,000 will result in death, according to the American Cancer Society.

UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has more than 240 researchers and clinicians engaged in disease research, prevention, detection, control, treatment and education. One of the nation's largest comprehensive cancer centers, the Jonsson center is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. In July 2012, the Jonsson Cancer Center was once again named among the nation’s top 10 cancer centers by U.S. News & World Report, a ranking it has held for 12 of the last 13 years. For more information on the Jonsson Cancer Center, visit our website at


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