Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

UM/Sylvester Expands Use of Lung Cancer Vaccine to More Patients


The University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center is expanding the use of a unique vaccine for patients with non-small cell lung cancer, which claims the lives of more than 120,000 Americans each year. A study published in the July 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology shares the dramatic results of the first clinical trial of the therapy. “We tested the vaccine in 19 people who had incurable disease,” said Luis Raez, M.D., F.A.C.P., co-leader of the UM/Sylvester Lung Cancer Site Disease Group. “Six of them are still disease-free and three have passed three years with no sign of relapse.”

Non-small cell accounts for 75 percent of all lung cancers and the average survival for this diagnosis is less than one year. These were all patients who had already failed other therapies and were not expected to survive. The vaccine will now be administered to two new groups of patients: those who have surgery to remove lung tumors, and those who complete their first cycle of standard chemotherapy.

The lung cancer vaccine was developed by Eckhard Podack, M.D., UM/Sylvester’s Associate Director, Basic Science, and chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and has been available in research protocols at UM/Sylvester for more than three years. “We are one of only a few facilities in the United States that does immunotherapy for lung cancer, and we were the first,” said Podack, who began work on the therapy in 1992.

Because of the success of the initial trial, the vaccine will now be made available to many more patients. The standard of care is to give chemotherapy for four months and then closely monitor patients. Unfortunately, three to four months later, many relapse and have to resume chemotherapy. “Now we are going to vaccinate every patient just after surgery or when they finish the first chemo round with the goal of preventing a relapse,” said Raez, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine. Because the vaccine is targeted immunotherapy, not chemotherapy, patients will not suffer from side effects common with chemotherapy, like hair loss and nausea. “With minimal toxicity it gives one more hope to the patients,” said Raez.

Some cancers trigger an immune system response – melanoma, for example — although the body’s immune system isn’t adequate to defeat the malignancy. Lung cancer essentially “hides” from the immune system, not even triggering an immune response. “So we thought if we could create a vaccine that activates an immune response maybe it would help,” said Podack. He genetically modified the lung tumor cells to express the B7 ligand – a protein that helps activate T cells in the immune-system. B7 interacts with the CD28 antigen on T cells, switches them on, and sends them to the lung tumor. Another potential advantage to this therapy is that, since lung tumors have never been exposed to immunological attack, they may not have any defense against it. “It is one more weapon against a disease that otherwise offers very little hope,” said Raez.

According to the American Cancer Society, this year in the United States approximately 173,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer and about 160,000 will die. In Florida alone more than 13,000 new cases will be diagnosed and more than 12,000 will die. Lung cancer is, by far, the leading cancer killer in men and women nationwide, accounting for between one-fourth and one-third of all cancer deaths.

If you want to learn more about this therapy, please call (305) 243-1000. The study is available after July 15 at

UM/Sylvester was founded in 1992 to provide comprehensive cancer services and today serves as the hub for cancer-related research, diagnosis, and treatment at the University of Miami School of Medicine. UM/Sylvester handles more than 1,100 inpatient admissions annually, performs 2,800 surgical procedures, and treats 2,900 new cancer patients. All UM/Sylvester physicians are on the faculty of the University of Miami School of Medicine, South Florida’s only academic medical center. In addition, UM/Sylvester physicians and scientists are engaged in more than 150 clinical trials and receive more than $30 million annually in research grants. UM/Sylvester at Deerfield Beach recently opened to better meet the needs of residents of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. This 10,000 square-foot facility at I-95 and S.W. 10th Street offers appointments with physicians from six cancer specialties, complementary therapies from the Courtelis Center, and education and outreach events.

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