Epigen Inc. announced at its annual meeting that it will begin anew program to develop a vaccine to treat carcinomas.

The program will use Epigen's EPN-141 monoclonal antibody tocreate anti-idiotypic monoclonal antibodies. EPN-141 measuresthe human carcinoma (HC) antigen, a glycoprotein specific tocarcinomas.

The HC antigen is found on the cell membrane surface of allcarcinomas, said James Mongiardo, president. "The problemnow is that the body's immune system doesn't recognizemalignant tumors. We believe that because so much HC antigenis present on carcinomas, this masks the body's ability torecognize the tumors as foreign, although we don't know why."

The Boston-based company hopes that its anti-ids, whenadministered into the bloodstream, will be recognized by thebody as foreign. If it works, the immune system will turn onthe tumors and attack them.

The vaccine is expected to treat all carcinomas, includingbreast, lung, prostate and colon cancers. Of the 1.1 millionnewly diagnosed cancer patients each year, 84 percent have acarcinoma, Mongiardo said.

Dr. Soldano Ferrone, a member of Epigen's scientific advisoryboard and chairman of the department of microbiology andimmunology at New York Medical College, will consult on thedevelopment of the anti-ids. An anti-id Ferrone created to treatmelanoma is already in clinical trials, Mongiardo said. Ciba-Geigy has rights to that product.

Epigen's first product is an in vitro blood test that uses EPN-141 to measure HC antigen in blood serum. Clinical trials areexpected to begin in the second half of the year.

The company's second product, an in vivo imaging agent, usesradiolabeled EPN-141 to image tumors and metastases. Epigenplans to begin Phase I trials before the end of the year.

Other companies with similar programs for imaging carcinomasinclude Cytogen Corp., NeoRx Corp. and Immunomedics Inc.Cytogen's OncoScint colorectal agent has been approved in someEuropean countries. In January, an FDA advisory committeerecommended approval of OncoScint for imaging colorectal andovarian cancers. NeoRx is awaiting FDA approval of its OncoTracsmall cell lung cancer imaging agent. Immunomedics has filedfor U.S. and European approval of ImmuRAID-CEA forcolorectal cancer.

Mongiardo predicted Epigen's product will be clinically superiorbecause the HC antigen is relatively abundant and it appears onall carcinomas. -- Karen Bernstein

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.