The Food and Drug Administration approved a new immune-boosting therapy for prostate cancer on Thursday, the first therapeutic vaccine for cancer ever approved by the agency. The approval opens the door to a whole new approach to cancer therapy, adding a unique weapon to the arsenal of oncologists.
The vaccine, Provenge, has been shown to extend survival in patients with advanced prostate cancer by four months, more than twice as long as chemotherapy, and to increase three-year survival by 38%.
Patient advocates who have been fighting for Provenge’s approval since the FDA initially rejected the drug in 2007 were overjoyed.
“I’m crying happy tears,” said Jan Manarite, who runs the Florida help line for the Prostate Cancer Research Institute, an advocacy organization. Manarite, who organized a march on Capitol Hill after the earlier FDA rejection and whose husband has been fighting prostate cancer for a decade, said cancer patients have been longing for access to an immunotherapy treatment.
“They want something that boosts the immune system and doesn’t have a lot of side effects,” she said.
About 192,000 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2009, making it the second most common type of cancer in men after lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. About 27,000 men died from it last year.