In Research, Survivors

Promising Research Supported by MOCA Advances, Receives Federal Grant

A MOCA-supported research project, studying a vaccine to prevent recurrent ovarian cancer, has shown promising results in a clinical trial and recently received a federal grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Matt Block of Mayo Clinic received a National Cancer Institute award for the project entitled, “A phase I/II study of combined therapy with Th17-inducing dendritic cells and pembrolizumab in patients with recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer.”

Dr. Block explains the significance of the research project for patients with recurrent ovarian cancer, below.

Matt Block, MD, PhD, Mayo Clinic

Please describe the primary goals of this project for our MOCA supporters.

Patients’ immune responses to ovarian cancer are known to significantly impact their survival, but immune checkpoint inhibitors—drugs that have had a major impact for many tumor types—are rarely successful for ovarian cancer patients when given alone. With support from MOCA, we previously tested a vaccine that was made by isolating patients’ white blood cells, culturing the cells in the laboratory to produce immune-stimulating cells called dendritic cells, and adding pieces of the ovarian cancer-associated protein folate receptor alpha (FRα) to the dendritic cells. When we used this vaccine in patients in remission after debulking surgery and chemotherapy, 40% of patients experienced a long-term (more than 5 years) remission.  Moreover, those patients who developed recurrence had evidence of immune evasion by tumor cells expressing PD-L1, an immune checkpoint inhibitor target. In our current project, we will test the safety and effectiveness of this dendritic cell vaccine targeting folate receptor alpha in combination with the immune checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab. We will also study blood and tissue samples to better understand how this approach works.

How will this treatment help ovarian cancer patients?

Our hope is that the combination of our FRα dendritic cell vaccine and pembrolizumab will be safe for patients and will result in shrinkage and long-term control of cancer. This will be used for patients with recurrent ovarian (or fallopian tube or peritoneal) cancer of high-grade serous, endometrioid, and clear cell types. Both platinum-sensitive and platinum-resistant patients will be enrolled [in our upcoming clinical trial].

Will the treatment be available to all or specific subset of patients with a specific marker?

The vaccine targets FRα; however, we do not think that benefit will be limited to patients with very high FRα. As such, we are not presently using FRα expression as a selection criterion. Patients will need to have recurrent disease based on imaging findings or CA 125).

What message would you like to say to those who support MOCA and our research efforts?

Thank you! We would not be able to launch the current exciting study without your support of our prior efforts. Your support matters. Thank you also to the patients who have participated in this and other clinical trials.

Your donations to MOCA help advance vital research needed to change the future of ovarian cancer. Make your gift today, here.

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