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An experimental vaccine and a drug already on the market each may help slow down advanced ovarian cancer, two new studies suggest.

In one, of just 31 patients, researchers found that adding the vaccine to standard treatment staved off a recurrence in women who had advanced-stage ovarian cancer.

The other study, involving women with recurrent ovarian cancer, found that administering the drug Avastin after surgery and chemotherapy stalled the cancer’s progression, versus surgery and chemo alone.

The findings are to be presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO), in Chicago. Studies reported at meetings are usually considered preliminary until they’re published in a medical journal.

Still, experts expressed cautious optimism, saying the findings represent progress against the deadliest form of gynecologic cancer.

There is no screening test for ovarian cancer, and in its early stages it often causes no symptoms or only vague ones — like abdominal bloating or pain, explained Dr. Krishnansu Tewari, a gynecologic oncologist at the University of California, Irvine.

So most women aren’t diagnosed until the tumor has spread, he said. And while current treatments often beat back the cancer initially, it usually returns.

The new vaccine study was a preliminary look at the safety and efficacy of the therapy, known as FANG. But the results are nonetheless “exciting,” said Tewari, a spokesperson for the SGO who was not involved in the study.

The vaccine proved “so effective” at delaying a recurrence that the study was stopped early, so that a larger trial could move forward, Tewari added.

In the study, 11 women were randomly assigned to standard treatment alone — namely, surgery and chemotherapy. The other 20 women went through standard therapy, then had monthly injections of the vaccine, for four months to a year.

Women on standard treatment typically saw a recurrence after about 14 months. In contrast, most of the vaccine patients have gone “well beyond” that time without a recurrence, according to an SGO press release on the findings.

The trial is reportedly moving on to the next phase, with close to 400 women.

The FANG vaccine, Tewari said, is one example of various types of “immunotherapy” under study for ovarian cancer. Those treatments aim to enhance the immune system’s cancer-fighting abilities.

The FANG vaccine is personalized, using cells from a patient’s own tumor. It’s designed to stimulate the immune response against the cancer, and block proteins that help tumors evade the immune system, according to the company Gradalis, the vaccine’s developer and funder of the study.

“This is promising because it’s a highly personalized therapy, and they haven’t seen any significant side effects so far,” said Tewari, who has no relationship with Gradalis.

But as with any experimental therapy, he stressed, larger studies are needed to look at the long-term effectiveness and safety.

The other study involved 748 women with recurrent ovarian cancer, where the outlook has traditionally been grim. Researchers tested the effects of adding the drug Avastin to surgery and standard chemo.

New Vaccine May Slow Progression Of Ovarian Cancer  was originally published on

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