There is some really exciting news on the horizon around immunotherapy for advanced prostate cancer. Bavarian Nordic, the pharmaseutical company that has, along with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), been running clinical trials on Prostvac has unoffically let it been known that Prostvac when combined with another investigational immunologic therapy, Yervoy, has helped to significantly extend survival in men with advanced prostate cancer. This finding which will formally be announced this Thursday at the ASCO GU Meeting in Orlando Florida results from a small early-stage trial conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

This very small study of 30 men was conducted on men with castrate resistant prostate cancer. The trial involved treating the men with the Prostvac vaccine, in addition to escalating doses of Bristol-Myers Squibb Yervoy, an approved injectable treatment for advanced melanoma that works by taking the brakes off the body’s immune system.

They found that on the average, men taking both drugs survived 31.3 months, compared with a predicted survival period of 18.5 months that had been based on historical survival data for older chemotherapy treatments. Among the 15 men who received the highest 10 milligram dose of Yervoy in combination with Prostvac, 20 percent remained alive at 80 months.

What really makes this even more interesting is that Yervoy had previously failed in Bristol-Myers’ own trials to prolong survival in patients with advanced prostate cancer. This was not a combination trial, but evaluated Yervoy as a single treatment.

Yervoy is one of a number of emerging immuno-oncology drugs called PD-1 inhibitors. These PD-1 inhibitors are expected to have greatest effectiveness when used in combination as it was in this trial. The PD1-inhibitors make cancer cells more visible to the immune system, removing their natural camouflage.

Immune therapies hold the potential to change the face of cancer treatment as they support the bodies own, natural systems to fight cancer. As a result they are also blessed with imparting minimal side effects.

Joel T. Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.