For the past 16 years, there has been an ongoing clinical study at the Sharett Oncology Institute, evaluating the autologous melanoma vaccine. The purpose of this study is to enhance the immune response of metastatic patients in order to prevent disease recurrence. Throughout this period, over 200 patients have been successfully treated; the success rates include aspects of patient safety, lack of toxicity, and the level of efficacy attained. The figure below shows the higher proportion of surviving patients following treatment by autologous vaccination, compared to lower survival rates of untreated patients at the same stage of disease (as previously published by Balch and colleagues).
What are the advantages of the whole cell autologous vaccine?
The advantage of using whole cancer cells for vaccination lies in the total compatibility between the vaccine and the cells of the patient. Since metastatic malignant melanoma cells grow readily in primary cultures, they are a good candidate for autologous vaccine protocols. Autologous vaccines have the additional advantage of containing the whole repertoire of molecules that can elicit the production of lymphocytes capable of killing melanoma cells in the patient. This fact has been reported by others, and is supported by our own experimental data. Furthermore, improved survival rates of patients following autologous vaccination was repeatedly linked with vaccine-induced immune alterations.
Who is eligible for the treatment?
The treatment program is intended for patients with stage IV melanoma who have undergone surgery to remove one or more metastases. A portion of the tissue removed is sent to the Sharett Institute’s Tumor Immunotherapy Laboratory. Patients who show no evidence of additional tumor foci after surgery are eligible for the vaccine.