WASHINGTON — An Army doctor has helped develop a vaccine that he believes will prevent cancer, or at least its recurrence. The drug NeuVax began phase III clinical trials Jan. 20, which Col. George Peoples said could lead to its Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approval.

Peoples is chief of surgical oncology at the San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas when he’s not traveling the world to provide surgical expertise or working to try and find a cure for cancer. He is currently deployed to Honduras. The phase III clinical trial for NeuVax will involve at least 700 breast cancer patients at 100 sites in the United States and abroad. The trial is titled PRESENT, prevention of recurrence in early-stage, node-positive breast cancer with low to intermediate HER2 expression with NeuVax treatment. Participants will receive one intradermal injection every month for six months, followed by a booster inoculation every six months thereafter. The primary endpoint is disease-free survival at three years.

“The first patient was vaccinated with NeuVax in January at San Antonio Military Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas,” Peoples said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 203,000 individuals in the United States are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year.

Vaccine development

Vaccine might prevent other cancers

“Probably the bigger point there is ... if it works, if the vaccine works in that lower level of HER2/neu expression group, then you can go look at other cancers that are not being targeted by Herceptin...” And those other cancers, he said, are anything that comes from an epithelial cell, which are the big cancers — lung cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, some blood cancers, ovarian cancer, and gastric cancer. “So it’s all of the big cancers that we face in the United States, all of those have a significant proportion of the tumors expressing some level of HER2/neu and, therefore, theoretically targetable by the vaccine. “So that’s the more exciting piece to this. We have tested the vaccine in prostate cancer, we’re testing it currently in ovarian and endometrial cancer, we have not done lung or colon, yet, though that’s on the list for future trials,” Peoples said.

Truly preventive vaccine

“The good news is, I think those proteins are likely to be common proteins, shared among multiple cancer types. So if you have immunity against one of those proteins, we’ll use HER2/neu for an example, if you had immunity against HER2/neu, then you could prevent the development of any one of these types of cancers. So, it wouldn’t be a cancer-specific vaccine, but a vaccine that would protect you against lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, etc.” “I think that is theoretically possible, it’s just a matter of identifying the most useful antigens to target,” Peoples said.