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New prostate cancer vaccine wins Medicare approval

by nickj on November 18, 2010

A Medicare advisory panel approved the therapeutic prostate cancer vaccine Provenge on Wednesday, a sign that it may financially endorse the treatment.

The Dendreon Corp vaccine prolongs the life of a patient by an average of four months and costs approximately $93,000 per patient.

The panel meeting was part of an evaluation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to determine whether the cost of the vaccine is "reasonable and necessary," reports RTTNews.com. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already approved the vaccine in April to treat prostate cancer that had spread to other parts of the body.

The vaccine, which is not preventative, is designed to trigger an immune response using the patient's own white blood cells, reports HealthDay News. The cells are treated with the vaccine and then returned to the patient's body, helping the immune system target and destroy cancer cells. The study involved 512 men suffering from advanced prostate cancer that had proven resistant to standard treatment.

New York City urologist Dr. Elizabeth Kavaler told HealthDay that "adding months to a man's life is better than doing nothing." The side effects of the vaccine appear to be markedly less severe than those of other treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy.

Lead researcher Dr. Philip Kantoff told the news source that "the strategy of trying to harness the immune system to fight cancer has been something that people have tried to attain for many years. This is one such strategy," he said.

Kantoff also noted that other available treatments are typically administered over a much longer time at a comparable or higher cost.

Officials from Medicare will take into account the panel's decision when casting their final vote.

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