Immunotherapy Vaccine Shows Great Promise in Treating Brain Cancer Patients

Adding an immunotherapy vaccine to traditional treatment methods is improving outcomes for patients with glioblastoma (GBM), the most aggressive form of brain cancer.

According to Cleveland Clinic neuro-oncologist  Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D.,– one of the principal investigators in a multi-center phase II study of a new treatment for GBM –the use of the vaccine SurVaxM shows great promise for improving survival in newly-diagnosed GBM patients. Dr. Ahluwalia presented the interim findings of the study at the recent 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Jeff Tabor, 53, a father of three from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is one of the 55 patients who followed the traditional GBM treatments of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation with ongoing doses of SurVaxM, a first-of-its-kind immunotherapy that has been engineered to stimulate patients’ immune response to control tumor growth and recurrence.

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Jeff, his wife Cynthia, and their three sons. (Courtesy: Alisha Bacon Photography)

“This vaccine is unique to this particular trial, and all the stars aligned for me to (be eligible) to get accepted into it,” said Jeff, who makes the commute to Cleveland Clinic, with his wife, Cynthia, to receive the treatment and periodic MRIs to gauge the results. “Dr. Ahluwalia is really encouraged by my progress. Life is good!”

Jeff began having difficulty speaking, reading and comprehending certain words in early 2017, and was diagnosed with GBM. Doctors performed surgery at a hospital in Pittsburgh to remove the golf ball-sized tumor, which immediately alleviated Jeff’s symptoms.

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Jeff underwent six weeks of radiation, which caused him to lose his hair, before beginning the clinical trial. He says his wife, Cynthia, has been an amazing support throughout his journey. (Courtesy: Jeff Tabor)

Since most GBM patients only survive about 15 to 16 months with standard therapy, Jeff aggressively pursued additional treatment options, which led him to inquire about the SurVaxM trial and Dr. Ahluwalia, who is director of the Brain Metastasis Research Program at Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Institute.

“While we are still in the relatively early phases of testing this vaccine, we are seeing some very promising results which give us a lot of hope for this patient population,” explained Dr. Ahluwalia. “In Jeff’s case, he has gone almost 18 months from his diagnosis, and – on his recent MRI scans — we do not see any evidence of cancer growing going back in his brain.”

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An MRI of Jeff’s tumor before surgery (left) and recently, after treatment (right), with no evidence of tumor growth. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

SurVaxM stimulates the immune system to kill tumor cells that contain survivin, a protein that helps cancer cells resist conventional treatments. Preliminary results of the first 55 patients in the SurVaxM trial reveal a 12-month overall survival rate of 90.9 percent from diagnosis and 70.8 percent from first immunization, a vast improvement over traditional treatment alone. Jeff and other patients experienced few if any side effects. Researchers now plan to conduct a randomized, prospective trial of SurVaxM for GBM patients.

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Team Tabor, Jeff’s family and friends, supporting him during a 5K walk/run, raising funds for brain cancer research. (Courtesy: Jeff Tabor)

With his oldest son about to go off to college at the University of Texas at Austin, Jeff is looking forward to spending a normal summer of trips to the local pool with his family, while continuing his career as a program manager for Microsoft.

“If you would have told me a year ago that I would feel this great today, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Jeff observed. “Every day has been better than the previous day.”

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