The future of cancer treatment may include personalized vaccines designed to manage or even prevent recurrence – at least if new research published on Thursday continues to evolve. In a small clinical trial, high-risk melanoma patients who received such a vaccine were able to develop long-term, a lasting immune response to their cancer, scientists said. They also survived four years after initial treatment, with most being disease-free.
Cancer vaccines have been a highly sought after goal by scientists 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 broadly effective vaccine that can directly prevent cancer is more difficult. task, thanks to the very nature of cancer. On the one hand, cancer cells have mutated versions of the cells in our body so that our immune system cannot recognize them as an enemy as easily as a virus. And because every cancer is specific to every person, it’s not so easy to create a vaccine that works for everyone.
In recent years, however, progress has been made in developing cancer vaccines at a more personalized level. Researchers have found that tumors carry proteins on the surface of their cells that are not found in normal cells and can make them look different from our immune system. These proteins are called neoantigens. By creating vaccines that train the immune system to better recognize these neoantigens, scientists theorize, we can give our bodies a better chance of fighting a known cancer.
Scientists at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts and elsewhere have worked 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. treatment. While their work is there shown that the vaccine is well tolerated and appears to elicit an immune response in patients, so far only short-term results are available. 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 specific tumor – something that is created on an individual level. So our vaccines need to be tailored to the patient’s cancer, “said study author Patrick Otte over the phone. “But what’s new is that using genomics and sequence, we’ve been able to identify these mutations much faster and more cost-effectively than before.”
They gave NeoVax to eight patients considered at high risk for future, potentially fatal recurrences of advanced melanoma. They then monitored their health for the next four years, periodically taking blood samples to examine the body’s immune response to cancer, especially tumor-specific T cells.
The vaccine is given to patients about 18 weeks after surgery to remove the tumor. He and his team found that volunteers continued to carry neoantigen-specific T cells that the vaccine had trained them to remember in the immune system. In some people, they have also seen T cells that recognize other neoantigens specific to their tumor. This is an indication that their immune system is adapting to all the remaining tumor cells in the body, creating even more weapons against them. All eight patients were still alive after almost four years, with six appearing disease-free at the last check-in.
At the moment, at best, it takes three months of a person’s diagnosis for scientists like From to create a personalized vaccine. But it is possible that one day these vaccines will be created in a much shorter time, after a simple visit to the doctor. And while they may not be the “universal” cancer vaccine we all hope for, Ot sees no reason why these vaccines ultimately cannot be made to prevent recurrence of any type of cancer. crab.
Vaccines can probably be combined with other treatments. Two patients were given in the study with cancer that spread elsewhere immune checkpoint inhibitors, drugs 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 metastatic tumors.
In the future, Ot and his team hope to improve their vaccine technology to create even more powerful immune responses that, in combination with drugs such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, can control advanced cancers. They are also now testing their vaccine with other cancers, while continuing to monitor their existing patients.