Phase II clinical trials of Dendritic Cell Therapy (DCT), often referred to as the fourth flank against cancer after chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, have successfully been completed across six sites in India. The drug controller’s approval has now been sought to make the therapy available to patients with malignant solid tumours. It is likely to cost anywhere between Rs 5-7 lakh.
The trial results published in the journal Cytotherapy showed that DCT is safe. In 51 patients with refractory cancer (with a life expectancy of three months or less) a median overall survival of 397 days was recorded. But researchers said the trials were conducted on patients with an advanced stage of the disease, and that ideally therapy should be started earlier.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved DCT for some forms of solid cancer. It is also being used in China, Korea, Singapore and some countries of the European Union.
DCT involves harvesting blood cells (monocytes) in the laboratory, into dendritic cells, making them more potent with the introduction of cytokines, interleukins and growth factors. These are then reintroduced into the body in the form of a vaccine-like injection. Dendritic cells function as antigen presenting cells. In a normal person the cell is not present in sufficient quantities to trigger a potent immune response. Unlike conventional anti-cancer therapy, DCT does not involve any side-effects.
Discoveries leading to this therapy had won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2011. Ralph Steiman (who got half of the award) had identified dendritic cells in 1973 and pioneered the therapy later to treat his own pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Ashok Vaid, senior Consultant, Medanta Medicity (a trial site) said, “Immunotherapy offers new hope for patients suffering from late stages of cancer.The clinical trial proves it improves the patients life span and makes a qualitative difference to the kind of life a patient leads”.