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Medical News and Perspectives
February 4, 2004

Cancer Vaccine Research Inches Forward

JAMA. 2004;291(5):550-552. doi:10.1001/jama.291.5.550

Cancer vaccines hold the promise of preventing the development of cancers or even treating existing cancers therapeutically. But some researchers say that it has been difficult to demonstrate the kind of vaccine efficacy seen in animal models, especially for therapeutic vaccines, because studies have been limited to testing such vaccines in patients for whom such therapies are least likely to work.

Although only one cancer vaccine has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration—a prophylactic vaccine against hepatitis B virus, an infectious agent associated with liver cancer—there are 14 cancer vaccine candidates in phase 3 testing, according to the National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov/BenchMarks/archives/2003_03/vacc_trials.html. Viewed January 16, 2004). One of these, a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer by immunizing against human papillomavirus infection, works like the hepatitis B vaccine in that it immunizes against a virus that can cause cancer. The other 13 candidates are intended to break new ground by sparking the immune system to attack cancer cells themselves. So far the most promising studies have centered around vaccine treatment for melanoma (J Clin Oncol. 2002;20:4549-4554).

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