Baylor Institute for Immunology research receives $3 million grant to create cancer vaccines



Dendritic cells
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(Dallas, July 26, 2006) -- Baylor Institute for Immunology Research (BIIR), a component of Baylor Research Institute, has been awarded a three-year, $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop vaccines against melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. The multi-project grant, entitled "Improving the Efficacy of Dendritic Cell Vaccines" is led by Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D., director of BIIR.

The research funded by this grant will consist of three projects that center on a randomized clinical trial in which BIIR researchers will test dendritic cells that have been activated against melanoma peptides (portions of the proteins that are unique to melanoma cancer cells). Patients will receive the dendritic cell vaccine in combination with cyclophosphamide (CPA), an anticancer drug known to boost immune system defenses. Pre-treatment with CPA may lead to a stronger anti-cancer immune response by the dendritic cell vaccines. Some patients will receive dendritic cells that are charged against both melanoma and HIV as a control to test the effectiveness of the vaccine strategy against these two diseases.

"This grant is an exciting achievement for us," states Dr. Banchereau. "This will be our seventh clinical trial to test patient-specific melanoma vaccines. It builds off of our first trial, which has been very successful."

The research at BIIR focuses on using dendritic cells, the 'sentries of the immune system,' which are the first line of defense against immune challenges. However, melanoma and other cancers normally manage to evade the immune system. To overcome this problem, BIIR scientists are specifically activating a patient's dendritic cells against melanoma. Because the vaccines are the patient's own cells, there are essentially no side effects.

Michael Ramsay, M.D., president of Baylor Research Institute, says, "This grant is further validation for the advanced, clinically-relevant research being performed at Baylor Institute for Immunology Research in Dallas. These world leaders in immunology research are making a difference in the way we diagnose and treat disease in the areas of cancer, autoimmunity, infectious disease and transplantation. The success of this program will bring new innovative therapies to the community."

Dr. Banchereau and BIIR scientists Karolina Palucka, M.D., Ph.D., the Michael A. E. Ramsay Chair for Cancer Immunology Research, and Joseph Fay, M.D., director of the Division of Immunologic Therapy for Cancer, will each lead a project funded by the grant.

"If everything goes according to plan, the dendritic cells, activated against melanoma, will signal the immune system to attack the cancer and destroy it. We have seen this type of response in our other clinical trials where we have tested these dendritic cell-based cancer vaccines and are very encouraged by it," Dr. Banchereau explains.

To support the manufacturing of the vaccine, Baylor Health Care System recently completed construction and equipped a $2.4 million, 2,200-square-foot customized cell-processing and vaccine development facility. The new lab facility is designed for compliance with the Food and Drug Administration's current Good Manufacturing Practices and is located at BIIR on the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas campus. It will enable the manufacture, controlled freezing and storage of patient-specific vaccines. The facility includes three 400-square-foot, Class 10,000 processing suites and an automated filling machine.

Dr. Banchereau adds, "We have an outstanding research and clinical team, a new leading edge vaccine manufacturing facility and, most importantly, a technique for making melanoma vaccines that are able to mount an immune response against the cancer. It is a very exciting time to be involved in cancer vaccine research at Baylor."

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In 2004, Baylor Health Care System formed its first biotech company ODC Therapy, Inc., to develop, produce and distribute customized cancer vaccines, including an individualized melanoma vaccine. For more information about ODC Therapy, Inc., visit www.odctherapy.com.

Dallas-based Baylor Institute for Immunology Research is the immunology research component of Baylor Research Institute, an affiliate of Baylor Health Care System. Opened in 1996, Baylor Institute for Immunology Research brings laboratory scientists and clinicians together in an effort to increase understanding of how the immune system works. The institute is devoted to translating basic laboratory discoveries made about the immune system into effective treatments for patients. This interdisciplinary program focuses on developing new therapies to treat conditions that involve the immune system, such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and organ transplants. The primary focus is the use of dendritic cells (immune system cells that are key players in initiating an immune response) to modulate the immune system in beneficial ways.

For more information about the melanoma clinical trial, call 1-800-4BAYLOR or visit www.BaylorHealth.com.

About melanoma:
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2006 there will be over 62,000 new melanoma cases diagnosed in the U.S. Melanoma is the deadliest of skin cancers and the estimates are that it will kill nearly 8,000 Americans this year alone.


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