Dendreon Corporation out of Seattle, WA, is working on a Prostate Cancer Vaccine. Currently, the FDA has asked for more information in regards to its efficacy. There were some speculations that the FDA might pass it a few months back but often people mistake silent discussion to chance for passing. After being at the FDA for a while, I can tell you that the more controversial or the more a drug is in media coverage the harder it is to pass or the more scrutinized a drug will be at the FDA. Therefore, it’s a double blade sword, you advertise your drug before it comes out to get people talking about it so when it’s pass you’re off and running, but at the same time, the FDA will give you a harder time. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I could tell you stories about what happened with the “female viagra”, but I am not going to, because that’s not right!

Dendrion’s technique works with dendritic cells (no relations to nerve cells with their dendrites) of the immune system. This cell type takes in foreign materials (antigens) and presents it to the body (other immune cells called T-cells and B-cells) which will then mount an attack towards the foreign object. Specifically, Dendreon’s technique work with prostate cancer antigens. Keep in mind that a cancer cell is really our cell, so finding something foreign on our own cells is quite impossible (almost). Yes, cancer cells are our own cells, but some cancer cells will express proteins on their surface that are exclusively their own, meaning none of the other cells in our body expresses it, although we could.

Dendreon plans on taking a patient’s dendritic cells out and modify it so it presents the prostate cancer antigen, therefore the our own immune system will recognize those same antigen when when they appear and kill them, or so is the theory goes. Dendreon does not plan on making this procedure a treatment (on people already inflicted with the disease) but as a vaccine (healthy people who may get sick). For this reason, it’s probably giving them a harder time at the FDA as well. Safety for this vaccine needs to be really good to warrant giving it to a healthy individual.  Dendreon’s Provenge is being developed as a treatment for men with advanced, hormone refractory prostate cancer, not for healthy men (as corrected by Dr. Kevin Slawin).  With Dendreon’s currently patient database, they are about a year away from showing more efficacy data to the FDA.

Also note that prostate cancer is one of those cancers which are curable if detected early enough and treated properly, but it is also a very slow acting cancer, so it also hard to detect that something is wrong. If you’re male and over 35, get a regular digital rectal exam (DRE), through this exam, the doctor could be able to tell if you have an enlarged prostate.


Thanks to the input by Dr. Kevin Slawin of the Vanguard Urologic Institue. Dr. Slawin is the Director of Vanguard Urologic Institute and the Texas Prostate Center in Houston, TX, he is also the recipient of the F. Brantley Scott, M.D., Jr. Award for Innovation and Creativity in Urology.