The Cancer Center of Santa Barbara will participate in a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of a new vaccine for lung cancer, with hopes of one day being able to fight the No. 1 cancer killer among men and women in the United States.

Lucanix, a cell-based therapeutic vaccine for patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer, will begin its Phase III clinical trial after more than 20 years of development. This will be the final step before seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Fred Kass, medical director of research and wellness at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, is heading up the clinical trial.

“While we are not at a place where this vaccine can cure lung cancer, this treatment means that we finally have a vaccine that works against this deadly disease,” Kass said.

Lucanix, derived from existing strains of living cancer cells, works with the immune system, inducing a patient’s immune system to specifically target the cancer. It is being tested in about 60 centers worldwide, including the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. Thus far, the results have been positive and show little or no signs of major side effects.

“These trials add to the plethora of effective and cutting-edge cancer treatments that we can provide our patients at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara,” said Rick Scott, president of the Cancer Center.

This trial is available locally through the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara’s Clinical Research Department. It’s the first of several trials that will be available to cancer patients in the north and mid-county regions through the center’s collaboration with the Santa Barbara Hematology Oncolgy Medical Group.

Thanks to the addition of Dr. Alan Bryce to the Santa Barbara Hematology Oncology Medical Group, trials are now available through its offices in Solvang and Lompoc. Bryce was recruited from the Mayo Clinic, where he was the chief fellow for the departments of Hematology and Oncology. He joins Drs. Donna Walker and Tom Woliver at the Solvang office, and he has recently opened its new office in Lompoc.

“Clinical trials allow us to provide our patients with cutting-edge therapies that may not be otherwise available, while helping us move towards the goal of cure,” Bryce said.

The trial is open to anyone older than 18 or younger than 75 who meets the advanced stage disease presentation and treatment status requirement. It is limited to 506 participants. Once enrolled, participants will receive a monthly injection of either the vaccine or placebo, and they will be closely monitored. Participants have a two in three chance of receiving the vaccine over placebo. The injections will be given monthly for 18 months and then once at 21 and 24 months, in the absence of disease progression.

“The hope is that the Lucanix vaccine will improve survival rates and quality of life for patients with advanced lung cancer,” Kass said.

The vaccine is intended to extend life rather than being utilized as a cure for lung cancer. In earlier trials, patients on Lucanix lived an average of nearly 16 months longer than those who did not receive the vaccine.

— Daniella Elghanayan is a publicist.