Provenge, a new method of treating prostate cancer using a patient’s own white blood cells, may extend a man’s life by several months.
“It’s a modest improvement in terms of survival for the patients,” says Bernard Poiesz MD, chief of Upstate’s Hematology and Oncology division and the Regional Oncology Center. Provenge does not shrink tumors or reduce levels of prostate specific antigen, PSA. Rather, the immunotherapy is designed to harness the body’s immune cells to attack the prostate cancer cells.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Provenge in 2010, but it was only available in a handful of hospitals. Now Upstate offers the therapy. Poiesz said the first patient is doing well.
“The actual collection of the peripheral blood dendritic cells is done at the Red Cross,” he says. The cells are shipped to Dendreon, a biotechnology company in New Jersey, where the patient’s personal dose is manufactured and shipped to Upstate, where the patient is infused.
Poiesz said the first step is obtaining approval by the patient’s insurance company. Because Provenge is FDA approved, most insurance plans cover it, but because it costs about $90,000 for three doses, patient copay amounts can be considerable. Then, Dendreon must agree that the patient is suitable for immunotherapy.
Patients who are likely to see the most benefit from Provenge are men whose cancer has spread beyond the prostate but whose symptoms are minimal. Their immune system must be functioning. They have to be on hormone therapy, with rising PSA levels, and they cannot be taking narcotics for pain relief.
Poiesz said this approach is promising and that future research will look at the value of giving Provenge to men soon after diagnosis, or pairing it with other immune system modulators. Reach Poiesz through Upstate Connect at 1-315-464-8668.