A company called Oncothyreon (formerly Biomira) has granted licence to pharmaceutical heavyweight Merck KGaA to develop and market Stimuvax, a cancer vaccine originally developed by researchers in Edmonton, that targets non-small cell lung cancer. Researchers think that the vaccine stimulates a patient’s immune system to recognize and control cancer cell growth, increasing the survival of patients.
A phase II trial of Stimuvax showed that a small group of patients with inoperable stage III non-small cell lung cancer lived about 17 months longer than patients in the control group. Phase III trials started with a larger groups of patients in early 2007. One trial group (called START) involves 1,300 patients from around the world and the other trial (called INSPIRE) focuses on patients in Asia. If the two trials produce results that are statistically significant, the vaccine will become another tool to treat lung cancer, which globally kills more people than any other cancer.