Lung cancer, conceptual image

An alliance between the American Lung Association (ALA) and Gateway for Cancer Research, a nonprofit organization funding early phase clinical trials, will provide $678,000 of funding for a five-year vaccine trial targeting small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The trial, which began enrolling patients last spring is led by Jeffrey Ward, MD, PhD of the Washington University School of Medicine and is believed to be the only current trial studying the use of a personalized vaccine as a first-line therapy against SCLC.

While SCLC accounts for only around one-in-seven lung cancer cases, it is an aggressive form of the disease that has a five-year survival rate of only eight percent for women and six percent for men. One reason for the pernicious nature of SCLC is that in 94% of the diagnoses of the disease, the cancer has spread beyond the lungs to other areas of the body. For the small percentage of those diagnosed with localized SCLC, which hasn’t yet spread, the five-year survival rate jumps to 30%.

While immunotherapies have shown success in treating a variety of other cancers, they have exhibited limit success in treating SCLC. One reason for this, Ward and his colleagues believe, is that immune cells don’t recognize SCLC as their target. The new clinical study funded by ALA and Gateway is looking to develop a personalized neoantigen vaccine to be used in conjunction with dervalumab, a monoclonal antibody immunotherapy, in an attempt to train immune cells to recognize the threat of SCLC. The vaccine will be created using a patient’s own cancer cells to ensure it is tailored to their set of unique cancer mutations.

Patients enrolling in the study will receive the standard of care SCLC therapy of chemotherapy combined with dervalumab while the personalized vaccine is being developed, then moved off chemotherapy and treated with the vaccine and the immunotherapy in combination, once the vaccine is ready.

Funds provided by the two organizations will be used to build bioinformatics support of the trial and will directly fund the single-cell RNA sequencing and DNA profiling needed to create the personalized vaccine.

“For too many patients with small cell lung cancer, there are few—if any—effective treatment options,” said Delora Senft, chief program officer at Gateway for Cancer Research. “Our hope is that Ward’s trial changes that for patients while giving physicians a better understanding of immune system response to this particular disease.”

For the ALA, the partnership with Gateway breaks new ground for funding early phase research in collaboration with partners with a similar mission via its newly created American Lung Association Research Institute.

“These studies are not only trying to find cures for cancer, but also increasing our collective understanding of how different types of cancer react to new and innovative treatments,” said Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the ALA. “We know all too well how devastating small cell lung cancer is, and we are eager to work hand-in-glove with Gateway to get one step closer to a world where a SCLC diagnosis is no longer feared.”

Gateway for Cancer Research, founded in 1991, has a core mission of funding Phase I and Phase II cancer clinical trials and has invested nearly $100 million to advance nearly 200 clinical trials since its founding.

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