In 1999, an experimental vaccine for lung cancer was tested at the University of Miami in nineteen patients all of whom were given just months to live. Six responded to the treatment and survived for several years. Four are still alive today, after having had no other treatment but this experimental drug.
One of those survivors is Marilyn Cohn. Marilyn Cohn knows how to deal with a bad hand. Her doctor dealt her one she thought she could never beat. He said I had lung cancer, and right to my face, he said, you have one year to live.
Doctor Luis Raez gave her a second chance. "When she came to us the cancer had already spread," said Dr. Raez. Her only hope was a vaccine never before tested in humans. Marilyn says when you're told you have a year to live you'll do anything.
We're trying to make our immune sytem aware that you have a lung cancer tumor inside and we need to kill it. You need to defend yourself.
To do that, doctors inject patients with a vaccine filled with lung cancer cells. It's the same theory used to fight the flu. The immune system is alerted of the foreign cells and kills them.
"Your immune system builds up an army of cells. It goes and fights the lung cancer tumor," said Dr. Raez.
Nineteen patients got the vaccine in 1999. One tumor shrunk and five others stopped growing, including Marylyns.
"We stopped the tumor growing, but also, she has not progressed in that time." Said Dr. Raez.
As for side effects, the only thing patients have complained about is a slight rash.
Now, the University of Miami is set to begin the next phase of this study. But instead of nineteen patients, this time, they're trying it on 70. That's because researchers there have been awarded a 300 thousand dollar grant to continue their research on what could potentially become a lung cancer vaccine.