Live from BIO: Transitioning to human models a big obstacle for DNA cancer vaccines

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A panel at the 2011 BIO International convention explained that the real obstacle comes when the focus turns to humans rather than animal models. As a collaborator of Inovio Biomedical's CMO Mark Bagarazzi's said, "DNA vaccines have basically cured every disease known to mouse."

"Therapeutic vaccines have yet to show themselves as being able to improve overall survival significantly," said James Merson, Pfizer's Senior Vice President of Vaccines Research. While Dendreon's Provenge has received FDA approval, and panelists acknowledged its positive impact on financing and morale in the DNA cancer vaccine sector, the market is still hitting a wall. "The experiments we've done with mice have been spectacular," noted Lindy Durrant, CEO of Scancell. "There must be a way of making this work with humans, and when we can, it'll make a big impact on cancer."

Three companies on the panel--Inovio, Scancell and Ichor Medical Systems--have all had promising results using electroportation as a DNA cancer vaccine delivery method, while Vical has stuck with a traditional needle and syringe system. So far Ichor has received approval for three veterinary DNA products, but no human vaccines. For now, Bagarazzi says, the company is working on two vaccines: one for prostate cancer, and another for HPV.

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