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YOUR HEALTH: A tumor-shrinking drug that effectively targets a rare form of cancer

SEATTLE, Washington – Doctors may have found a vaccine that works on one, specific form of cancer.

Synovial sarcoma is a rare, aggressive cancer of the soft tissue that can be quite resistant to treatment.

Doctors at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have created a vaccine that's shown some impressive results in a phase one trial.

And there have been few side effects.

In 2004, Tiffany O'Keefe was diagnosed with sarcoma in her lung.   Despite chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, it came back four times.

That's when a doctor proposed a clinical trial for LV-305.

"I hadn't done much research," said Tiffany.   "I was nervous, but I think I was ready for anything other than chemotherapy."

Tiffany got three sets of injections in 2014.   Her tumors started to shrink.

Then, good news a year later.

"That's when things really started to shrink, and now she's had over 80 percent of her tumor shrink away, and she's over three years out from her vaccination," explained Dr. Seth Pollack of the research center.

LV-305 re-programs the immune system to fight cancer cells.  Dr. Pollack says patients in the phase one trial seem to be living longer with few side effects.   So, researchers added a booster in a follow up study.

"Not only would the reprogrammed immune system fight the cancer, but an extra dose of the cancer target would be injected to the patients to get a little more oomph to the vaccine," said Dr. Pollack.

And he says those patients are also living longer.

The vaccine's success is making Tiffany rethink her life.

"Yeah, I actually have to think now, I might have to think about the future, what I'm going to do in retirement."

And she's excited to get the chance to finish raising her kids.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center doctors and therapy developer, Immune Design, are pushing forward with more improvements for the vaccine.

immune Design announced a randomized phase three trial that will include the vaccine, the booster, and a drug that blocks an immune checkpoint.

The trial should open in 2018.

SYNOVIAL SARCOMA:  It is one of the rarer forms, and can occur at any age but is more common among teenagers and young adults.  Despite the name it is not related to the synovial tissues that are part of the joints.  It is unknown whether this mutation occurs randomly or following a specific chain of events.  The primary treatment for synovial sarcoma is surgery to remove the entire tumor with clear margins whenever possible.  This happens when healthy tissue surrounding the tumor is removed along with the tumor, making it more likely that all cancer cells have been removed from the area.  Depending on the location and size of the mass, it may be difficult for a surgeon to remove adequate margins while preserving function. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy may also be recommended, especially in the advanced or metastatic stages.  This is on a case by case basis, and is decided by the oncologist and the patient.  Prognosis is influenced by the quality of surgery that patients receive and characteristics of the disease among other things.
(Source: http://sarcomahelp.org/synovial-sarcoma.html)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.