Bringing Personalized Medicine to Malignant Glioma

Chair of Neurological Surgery

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Title: Bringing Personalized Medicine to Malignant Glioma
Investigator: Andrew Parsa
Grantee: University of California San Francisco

A major advantage of immunotherapy is its potential to bring personalized medicine to brain cancer treatment.  Dr. Andrew Parsa, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern University, is seeking to exploit this advantage by pioneering a new, personalized vaccine for the treatment of malignant glioma.

Dr. Parsa’s new vaccine—Prophage—is based on a type of molecule in brain cancer cells called a heat shock protein.  Heat shock proteins are good guys in brain cells, and they bundle together other molecules that get mutated or incorrectly produced.  These bundles act like unique brain tumor “fingerprints” that are especially effective in stimulating an immune response.  Just as proteins from the flu virus elicit an immune response to the flu, these brain cancer protein bundles powerfully stimulate the immune system to attack the brain tumor.  In fact, in early clinical trials, Prophage safely and efficiently activated the immune systems of patients with malignant glioma.

To capitalize on Prophage’s potential for treating aggressive brain cancer, ABC2 partnered with the American Brain Tumor Association, National Brain Tumor Society, and National Cancer Institute in 2007 to accelerate its clinical development.  Together, these groups financed a critical Phase 2 clinical trial to determine if the vaccine effectively delays tumor progression and extends survival in patients with high-grade glioma.  The results of this key trial were clearly positive, and provided strong preliminary evidence for Prophage as a feasible, safe, and effective brain cancer treatment.

Additional Phase 2 clinical trials in both newly diagnosed and recurrent glioma have also been promising, and plans are underway for a Phase 3 clinical trial that could definitively demonstrate the vaccine’s efficacy—a crucial step toward FDA approval and making the vaccine available in the clinic.

2015 Note: ABC2 joins the entire brain cancer research and patient community in mourning Dr. Parsa's unexpected passing earlier this spring.