Miller School Offers Brain Cancer Vaccine, Gives Patient Hope
The first patient in Florida to receive a novel vaccine for brain cancer, Cathy Hoffman-Booker believes fate steered her to UHealth. “I feel everything happens for a reason, and I’m thankful that I was given a chance,” she told a group of South Florida reporters.
Hoffman-Booker’s “chance” is her participation in a clinical trial using a vaccine to target what remains of her brain tumor – a glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and aggressive form of brain tumor.
She is the first person treated by a team of surgeons and oncologists at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth–University of Miami Health System, after enrolling in a clinical trial for a vaccine to target glioblastoma multiforme – the same type of tumor that claimed the life of U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy and, more recently, baseball Hall of Famer Gary Carter.
The trial, a phase II multi-institutional study, uses the patient’s own tumor cells to develop the heat shock protein vaccine (HSPPC-96) for patients who are newly diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme. UHealth is one of only eight medical centers in the country, and the only one in Florida, currently enrolling patients in this trial.
Hoffman-Booker received her first dose of the vaccine on February 21. The mother of two was diagnosed in November – the same week a Miami Herald story announced the vaccine trial at Sylvester. After learning about the trial, she canceled her scheduled surgery at Cleveland Clinic and came to Sylvester to see Ricardo Komotar, M.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery, co-director of surgical neuro-oncology and the principal investigator of the vaccine trial.
“The hope is that the heat shock protein will spark a strong response from the immune system to recognize tumor cells as foreign, fight those tumor cells, and keep them from coming back,” Komotar said.
The heat shock protein vaccine offers a new avenue for glioma therapy and new hope to patients. The vaccine is designed to target the immune system and activate a patient-specific T-cell response, without injuring normal neural and glial structures. If successful, it could eventually turn fatal brain tumors into manageable, chronic conditions.
“The idea of having immune therapy is very exciting to us because it adds another dimension to treatment,” said Deborah Heros, M.D., associate professor of neurology and neuro-oncology.
“Because this therapy uses the patient’s own tumor cells, it’s a form of personalized, highly targeted medicine,” said Komotar, who performed the surgery to extract Hoffman-Booker’s tumor. He foresees this type of patient-specific targeted therapies leading the way to future cancer treatment breakthroughs.
In Florida this year, an estimated 600 patients will be diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme. “It’s amazing that this treatment is available right here in our state,” said Sheryl Stetsky, president of the Florida Brain Tumor Association, and a 21-year brain tumor survivor.
Over the past several years, the heat shock protein has been refined and used in other clinical trials for the treatment of various malignancies, such as renal cell carcinoma, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer. Only recently has HSPPC-96 been employed in glioma patients, and early results have been promising, nearly doubling their life expectancy, with few side effects.
“Each patient is unique and responds differently,” said Komotar. “But we are very hopeful that this type of approach, using the patient’s own immune system, will be the way we fight not just brain cancer, but many cancers.”
Hoffman-Booker will receive weekly injections of the vaccine for four weeks, then begin a monthly regimen. She is still undergoing standard chemotherapy as well and says, besides losing her hair, she feels fine. “I’m naturally optimistic. I want to see my children grow up.”