Researchers working on making sarcoma vaccine more effective

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Synovial sarcoma is a rare, aggressive cancer of the soft tissue that can be quite resistant to treatment. (WLS)

Synovial sarcoma is a rare, aggressive cancer of the soft tissue that can be quite resistant to treatment. Doctors at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have created a vaccine that's shown some impressive results in a phase one trial, with few minor side effects. Now they're working on making the vaccine even more effective.

For a decade, Tiffany O'Keefe wasn't sure she'd be playing games with her kids at age 45. In 2004, she was diagnosed with sarcoma in her lung. Despite chemo, surgery, and radiation, it came back four times. That's when a doctor proposed a clinical trial for LV305.

"I hadn't done much research. I was nervous, but I think I was ready for anything other than chemotherapy," O'Keefe said.

Tiffany got three sets of injections in 2014. Her tumors started to shrink. Then, a year later, "That's when things really started to shrink, and now she's had over 80 percent of her tumor shrink away, and she's over three years out from her vaccination," said Dr. Seth Pollack of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

LV305 reprograms the immune system to fight cancer cells. Dr. Pollack says patients in the phase one trial seem to be living longer with few side effects. So, researchers added a booster in a follow up study.

"Not only would the reprogrammed immune system fight the cancer, but an extra dose of the cancer target would be injected to the patients to get a little more oomph to the vaccine," he said.

Dr. Pollack says those patients are also living longer. The vaccine's success is making Tiffany rethink her life.

"Yeah, I actually have to think now, I might have to think about the future, what I'm going to do in retirement," she said.

And, she's excited to get the chance to finish raising her kids.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center doctors and therapy developer Immune Design are pushing forward with more improvements for the vaccine. Immune design just announced a randomized phase three trial that will include the vaccine, the booster, and a drug that blocks an immune checkpoint. The CMB305 trial should open next year.

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