The future of cancer treatment may include personalized vaccines designed to control or even prevent relapse – at least if new research published on Thursday continues to come out. In a small clinical trial, high-risk melanoma patients receiving such a vaccine were able to create a long-term lasting immune response to their cancer, researchers said. They also remained alive four years after the initial treatment, most of whom were actively disease-free.
Cancer vaccines have been a much sought after target by researchers for decades. There are two vaccines that can protect against viral diseases that are known to increase the risk of certain cancers, HPV and hepatitis B. But developing a broad effective vaccine that can directly prevent cancer from occurring has been a more difficult task thanks to itself. the nature of Cancer. First, cancer cells are mutated versions of the cells found in our body, so our immune system cannot recognize them as an enemy as easily as they can a virus. And because each cancer is specific to each person, creating a vaccine that works for everyone is not that simple.
In recent years, however, there has been progress in developing cancer vaccines on a more personal level. Researchers have discovered that tumors carry proteins on the surface of their cells that are not found on normal cells and can make them look different from our immune system. These proteins are called neoantigener. By creating vaccines that train the immune system to better recognize these neoantigens, researchers theorize, we can give our bodies a better chance of fighting a well-known cancer.
Researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts and elsewhere have been working on one of these vaccines (called NeoVax) for skin cancer melanoma as well as glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer and one that is very difficult to treat. While their work has done shown that the vaccine is well tolerated and appears to elicit an immune response in patients, only short-term results have been available so far. Their new paper, published in Nature Medicine, suggests that their vaccine also works over long distances.
“These neoantigens are the result of mutations found in a particular tumor – it is something that is created on an individual level. So our vaccines must be tailored to a patient’s cancer, ”said study author Patrick Ott per. Telephone. “But what’s new is that by using genomics and sequencing, we have been able to identify these mutations much faster and in a more cost-effective way than before.”
They gave NeoVax to eight patients who were considered at high risk for future, potentially fatal recurrences of advanced melanoma. They then tracked their health over the next four years and took regular blood tests to examine the body’s immune response to the cancer, especially tumor-specific T cells.
The vaccine was given to patients approx. 18 weeks after surgery to remove the tumor. Ott and his team found that volunteers continued to carry T cells specific for the neoantigens their vaccine had trained the immune system to remember. In some people, they also saw T cells that recognized other neoantigens specific for their tumor. It is an indication that their immune system is adapting to any lingering tumor cells in the body by creating even more weapons against them. All eight patients were still alive after nearly four years, six of whom appeared disease-free at last check-in.
Right now, it takes at best three months from a person’s diagnosis for researchers like Ott to create a personal vaccine. However, it is possible that these vaccines could one day be created in a much shorter time after a simple doctor visit. And while they may not be the “universal” cancer vaccine we all hope for, Ott sees no reason why these vaccines could not ultimately be obtained to help prevent the recurrence of any type of cancer.
The vaccines can probably be combined with other treatments. Two patients in the study with cancer that spread elsewhere were given immune control inhibitorsdrugs that allow the immune system to better target tumor cells. In these patients, the group found evidence that tumor-specific T cells had found their way to the metastatic tumors.
In the future, Ott and his team hope to improve their vaccine technology to create even more potent immune responses that, combined with drugs such as immunosuppressants, can treat advanced cancer cases. They are also now testing their vaccine with other cancers, while continuing to monitor their existing patients.