Microscopic view of prostate cancer

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Dendreon’s cancer vaccine

Microscopic view of prostate cancer

Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton profiles Dendreon’s prostate-cancer vaccine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce its decision whether to approve the Seattle company’s vaccine, Provenge, this week.

“If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives the expected green light, it will mark Seattle’s biggest biotech breakthrough in nearly a decade,” Doughton writes.

“Dendreon’s case rests largely on a study of more than 500 men with an advanced form of prostate cancer that spread to other parts of their bodies. Of the men who got Provenge, nearly a third were still alive in three years, compared with less than a quarter of those who got placebos. The vaccine boosted median survival time by 4 months, from 22 months in the placebo group to 26 months in the Provenge group.”

A course of treatment is expected to cost between $50,000 and $75,000, potentially earning the company over $1 billion.

If the company isn’t  “swallowed up by a pharmaceutical firm — a big “if” — its success would boost the region’s stature and draw as a biotech hub,” Doughton writes.

PHOTO: photomicrograph of prostate cancer

To learn more:

  • Watch two lectures on UWTV: “Your Immune System vs. Cancer” by Dr. Oliver Press and “Keeping Tumors at Bay With Vaccines” by Dr. Nora Disis from the University of Washington’s Science for Life series available online here.

Did H1N1 “swine” flu vaccine may have side effects?

H1N1 virus growing in tissueThe Washington Post’s Rob Stein reports that health officials are looking into reports that suggest but do not prove that the H1N1 vaccine may have had some significant complications.

Stein writes:

“The latest analysis of data has detected what could be a somewhat elevated rate of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis and death; Bell’s palsy, a temporary facial paralysis; and thrombocytopenia, which is a low level of blood platelets, officials reported Friday.”

Stein notes that officials say “the concerns will probably turn out to be a false alarm.”

Officials stressed that it is far too early to know whether the vaccine was increasing the risk of those conditions or whether there is some other explanation, such as doctors identifying more cases because of the intensive effort to pinpoint any safety problems with the vaccine.

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Scam artists taking advantage of confusion over new health reform law

State and federal authorities are warning consumers to be wary of scam artists who are taking advantage of the confusion over the provisions of the new health reform law to con people out of their money, writes New York Times reporter Robbie Brown in today’s paper.

“The authorities say the elderly and the poor are especially vulnerable to the bogus plans, which have names like Obamacare and Obama Health Plan and promise affordable compliance with the new law. The fraudsters often impersonate insurance agents and government workers.”

“If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” advises one state official.

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