UNM participates in clinical trial

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The University of New Mexico Cancer Center is among a handful of institutions nationwide participating in a Phase 3 clinical trial studying a novel treatment for men with newly diagnosed, localized prostate cancer. 

In most cases, prostate cancer is detected early and eradicated.  However, even with early detection, the cancer returns in up to 30 percent of patients.  The trial will study whether combining this innovative treatment with standard radiation therapy will produce an immune response that will kill cancerous cells throughout the body and decrease the likelihood of the tumor ever coming back.

In this study, men receive three injections of an engineered virus directly into the prostate followed by 14 days of oral doses of a medication called valacyclovir. The injection is a viral vehicle, a virus that can’t make more of itself, that delivers a specific gene into the cancer cell. Once inside, the gene converts the valacyclovir into an active form causing death of the tumor cell. This process also generates a vaccine response against the cancer that can detect and kill microscopic cancer cells wherever they lurk, helping to prevent the cancer from returning.

Thomas Schroeder, MD, is Medical Director of Radiation Oncology and the institutional principal investigator for the ProstAtak clinical trial at the UNM Cancer Center. 

He says, “The protocol for this trial is very interesting because it is a new and different approach.” Dr. Schroeder is referring to combining this treatment with the standard of care, so that men’s bodies have a stimulated immune system more able to detect and kill cancerous cells.

This clinical trial is designed for men with intermediate-risk localized prostate cancer — cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate — or for men with some forms of high risk cancer. 

“This treatment will hopefully help men who have just been diagnosed with cancer and are trying to decide on a treatment approach,” says Dr. Schroeder. For men with low risk cancer, therapies such as surgery, radiation, and watchful waiting, are still the best choices.

But this novel treatment may help men with more aggressive prostate cancer that need to consider the possibility of the cancer coming back. This treatment may help them decrease the odds of the cancer returning at a later time in their lives.