UPDATED: Drug developers extol human data in brain cancer fight

The most lethal of brain tumors has new enemies in the form of vaccines and therapeutic viruses that aim to vastly improve treatment for what has been a death sentence for thousands of patients such as the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. And a trio of programs in development was highlighted in a Bloomberg article that sheds light on the tricky--and often losing--battle against the deadly brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme.

ImmunoCellular Therapeutics ($IMUC), for instance, is advancing an experimental vaccine called ICT-107 as a weapon against this form of brain cancer. The Los Angeles-based developer touted results from a tiny 16-patient cohort that was treated with the vaccine, which consists of dendritic cells that are supposed to find cancer in the brain and signal the immune system's soldier T cells to attack. Half the patients who took the drug in a Phase I trial were still alive after four years, compared with the historical average of 12.1% of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) patients who survive that long.

As Bloomberg reports, MD Anderson Cancer Center has studied the use of viruses that are designed to replicate in the brain tumor cells until they explode, and San Diego-based Tocagen combines a virus with an antibiotic to combat the cancer. These two programs are in the first phase of human testing, making it way too early to say whether either group has solved the complex riddle of GBM treatment, which has humbled a number of previous upstarts. ImmunoCellular has much to prove as well, with only single-arm study data in hand. Yet the company has enrolled 213 patients in a Phase II randomized trial of its drug.

Glioblastoma multiforme is one of the most intractable malignancies. The cancer spreads quickly and widely throughout the brain, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The cancers are notoriously resistant to treatments and have an uncanny ability to reemerge after surgeries and existing therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy. And the huge challenge of beating the cancers has lured many drug developers into the chase to deliver new treatments.

"I have lots of clinical trials, so at least when patients come and say there are no options, I can now say we do have options," Santosh Kesari, an associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, told Bloomberg. "I think that's the only thing that motivates me to stay in this business."

- read Bloomberg's article

Special Report: ICT-107 - 10 promising therapeutic vaccines

Correction: ImmunoCellular recently updated investors on May 31, saying that its Phase II trial for ICT-107 had enrolled 213 patients. This article, which stated that the trial was only halfway to its enrollment goal of 200 patients, was corrected with the updated information. We apologize for the error.