A promising new vaccine to shrink breast cancer tumors and prevent recurrence is drawing the attention of women across Arkansas.
Developed at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) by Thomas Kieber-Emmons, Ph.D., the vaccine — which is a first of its type tested in humans — is being used with chemotherapy in women with early stage disease to see if it triggers tumor shrinkage prior to surgery. The trial is being conducted with eligible patients at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and Highlands Oncology Group (HOG) in northwest Arkansas.
“We are extremely optimistic about the potential of this vaccine and thrilled to collaborate with UAMS to offer it to our patients,” said J. Thaddeus Beck, M.D., oncologist and medical director of clinical research at HOG.
Janis Volkamer of Fayetteville is participating in the trial after being diagnosed with breast cancer in April. After receiving three immunizations divided into six injections, she has shown positive signs, including significant tumor shrinkage.
“The tumor may still be there, but it was undetectable at my last checkup,” said Volkamer, who is undergoing active treatment at HOG.
“Clinical trials provide access to the latest treatments and are the key to discovering new, innovative treatments for the future,” said Courtney Simmons, director of clinical research at HOG.
The vaccine was shown to induce antibody responses that are toxic to breast cancer cells during a phase 1 clinical trial at UAMS. Now in a phase 2 clinical trial, it is being tested in a greater number of patients at UAMS and HOG to determine its effectiveness and safety.
Lindsay Shelby, phase 1 research coordinator at HOG, regularly communicates with the research staff at UAMS to discuss patient screening and enrollment. This collaboration allows patients in northwest Arkansas to receive the benefits of the vaccine without traveling to Little Rock.
The UAMS Cancer Institute and HOG are the only facilities in Arkansas to offer phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials, which are the early testing phases used to determine a new therapy’s safety, dosage and side effects.
If the vaccine continues to show positive results, a phase 3 clinical trial will follow in hundreds or thousands of patients at multiple sites to compare its effectiveness with standard treatment.