A genetically modified smallpox vaccine has shown to be effective in the treatment of shrinking primary and, in some cases, eliminating secondary tumors in advanced-stage liver cancer patients, extending survivability, according to new research.
Jennerex, Inc., also known as Jennerex Biotherapeutics, is a private clinical-stage biotherapeutics company whose research focuses on the development and commercialization of targeted oncolytic (cancer) immunotherapies. The company’s name is based on Edward Anthony Jenner, an English physician and scientist who developed the first vaccination with an inoculation against the related cow-pox virus in 1796 and is often referred to as “the father of immunology.”
Jennerex recently announced the publication of research demonstrating the ability of Pexa-Vec (JX-594) to significantly prolong survival in advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients in a randomized dose comparison clinical trial.
The research has been published in Volume 19, Issue 2 of Nature Medicine. The therapy used the same strain of virus found in the smallpox vaccine, called vaccinia virus, because of its natural ability to replicate in cancer cells. They modified the virus to enhance its cancer-fighting properties.
The clinical data revealed the majority of the 16 patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma who received high doses of Pexa-Vec had significant longevity of 14.1 months versus the 14 who were given low-dose injections of the same vaccine and lived an average of 6.7 months.
Regardless of mortality variations of dose-dependencies, the study did show overall the effectiveness of the vaccine, inhibiting the growth of primary and secondary tumors both in and around the liver.
Patients received the medicine three times during a four-week period. Of those in the high-dose group, 35 percent were still alive 18 months later. The current five-year survival rate for liver cancer patients is about 15 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is cancer of the liver. This type of cancer occurs more often in men than women and is usually seen in people age 50 or older. The disease is more common in parts of Africa and Asia than in North or South America and Europe.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is not the same as metastatic liver cancer, which starts in another organ and then spreads to the liver. The majority of liver cancer is caused from cirrhosis (liver disease). Cirrhosis can be brought on from alcohol abuse, autoimmune diseases of the liver, infections such as Hepatitis B and C, prolonged or chronic inflammation of the liver, or hemochromatosis (excessive amounts of iron in the body).
Symptoms of liver cancer include pain or tenderness especially in the upper to mid-right quadrant just beneath the pectoral region, frequent bruising and free bleeding, enlarged or distended abdomen, and jaundice (yellow skin or eyes). CT scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, enzyme function, and biopsy tests can determine the presence of liver cancer.
Surgery or transplantation can treat small or slow-growing tumors with success if they are diagnosed early. Chemotherapy or radiation delivered straight into the liver can help, but it will not cure the disease. Survivability is likely poor because only 10 to 20 percent of hepatocellular carcinomas can be surgically removed. Therefore, the disease is fatal within an estimated three to six months.
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