Lung cancer vaccine to be evaluated at Siteman Cancer Center

A vaccine designed to prevent the recurrence of lung cancer is now being tested in centers around the world, including the Siteman Cancer Center.


The vaccine stimulates the immune system to destroy cells that carry a tumor-specific antigen called MAGE-A3. This antigen is not present in normal tissue but is found in several cancer types, including 35 percent to 50 percent of cases of the most common type of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer.

The MAGE-A3-based vaccine answers a need for a highly efficient and safe therapy for patients who have undergone conventional treatment for a primary tumor but are at a high risk of relapse.

“The vaccine takes advantage of the immune system’s built-in ability to eliminate foreign materials and harmful cells,” said Bryan Meyers, M.D., professor of surgery and chief of the General Thoracic Surgery Section of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. “This natural process has few side effects, unlike traditional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.”

Known as the MAGRIT (MAGE-A3 as Adjuvant Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Immunotherapy) trial, the study will test the vaccine to determine whether it can prolong survival by delaying or preventing recurrence of lung cancer. The study involves more than 400 centers in 33 countries, and study leaders hope to enroll 2,270 patients.

It is estimated that 215,000 men and women in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008. In people with lung cancer, the rate of recurrence and death is high, making the five-year survival rate only about 10 percent.

The trial is open to people with stage IB, II or IIIA non-small cell lung cancer with MAGE-A3 positive tumors. Participants must have undergone complete surgical removal of their tumors within six weeks of beginning the trial.

“This trial is one of the few that focuses on patients with less advanced lung cancer,” said Meyers, who heads the MAGRIT trial at the School of Medicine. “Because lung cancer has few symptoms until later stages, most lung cancer patients we see have late-stage cancer — stage III B or IV — so the majority of lung cancer trials are designed for these patients.”

The vaccine contains MAGE-A3 antigen particles along with compounds that cause inflammation. The inflammation helps alert the immune system to the antigen and activate killer T-cells that can eradicate cells with the antigen on their surface. Only cancer cells have the antigen.

Preliminary results in small trials have suggested that the vaccine does improve survival, but more data are needed to firmly establish its effectiveness.

“With the MAGRIT trial, there will be a sufficient number of participants to give a definitive answer about which lung cancer patients will benefit from the vaccine and the degree of benefit,” Meyers said.

Physicians and patients interested in the MAGRIT trial can call 747-6969.