Combining a vaccine with high-dose chemotherapy may help improve survival rates for patients of an aggressive form of brain cancer, a new study claims.

Researchers from Duke University in the US studied 11 glioblastoma (GBM) patients who received the combination therapy of a vaccine targeting cytomegalovirus (CMV) antigen pp65, along with a high-dose chemotherapy (temozolomide).

They took advantage of CMV's affinity for GBM, with the viral proteins being expressed in roughly 90 per cent of these tumours. GBM is the most aggressive cancer that begins within the brain.The vaccine targeting CMV antigen pp65, combined with temozolomide, improved both progression-free survival and overall survival for a small group of GBM patients, researchers found.

"The clinical outcomes in GBM patients who received this combination were very striking," said Kristen Batich of Duke University.
Building on previous research, they used CMV as a proxy for GBM, targeting the virus with pp65-specific dendritic cells to spotlight the tumour for the immune system.They administered dose-intensified temozolomide (TMZ) as a strategy to further enhance the immune response. The patients demonstrated a median progression-free survival of 25.3 months and a median overall survival of 41.1 months and three patients remain progression-free more than seven years after diagnosis.

"The dose-intensified temozolomide induces a strong state of lymphopenia. With that comes an opportune moment to introduce an antigen-specific vaccine, which redirects the immune system to put all hands on deck and fight that target," said Batich.

The study was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

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