Personalized 'cancer vaccine' clinical trials show positive results

Personalized 'cancer vaccine' clinical trials show positive results
Close up of a breast cancer cell.
PHOTO: A*Star

Researchers are taking a different approach to curing cancer by creating a personalized vaccine that helps patients' bodies fight off tumours.

The results from one of the clinical trials of this "cancer vaccine" showed positive results, according to a research team led by Catherine Wu of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, reports Science Magazine.

This vaccine works by using multiple mutated proteins or neoantigens that are specifically tied to an individual's tumour. Because these neoantigens are designed to look foreign to the body yet similar to the tumour, it will trigger the immune system to start attacking cancer cells that have previously remained hidden.

It's like training a dog to catch a ball by putting a small treat inside the ball. Eventually, the dog learns that the ball is something to be chased after and caught.

However, despite the results, Drew Pardoll of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland cautions that it is still too soon to firmly conclude if the vaccine can extend the life of patients.

He adds that further studies need to be made to determine if the vaccine can perform better than a drug called the PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor. This antibody drug works directly on the body's immune cells called T cells, so that tumours can't hide from the immune system.

There are also concerns about making the vaccine easier to produce. As of now, the cancer vaccine takes months to make and is very costly.

Researchers are concerned that some patients may not survive the wait before receiving the treatment.

To help things along, a contest was launched in 2016 that would find the best way to tailor the vaccine to each patient. Thirty companies are currently participating. It is hoped that by the end of this competition, a viable method not too costly and time consuming for creating a personalized cancer vaccine can be determined.

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