- Vaccine triggered greater immunity to cancer cells in trial patients
A vaccine that targets a molecule in 90 per cent of all cancers has been tested on humans for the first time.
Results from the safety trial – on patients with blood cancer – found all had greater immunity to the disease after receiving the vaccine. Three of the seven patients who have completed the treatment are now free of the condition.
As a therapeutic vaccine it is designed to be given to patients to help their bodies fight cancer rather than the majority – known as prophylactic vaccines – that aim to prevent disease in the first place.
Researchers believe the jab could also tackle breast, prostate, pancreatic, bowel and ovarian cancers.
Even tumours that resist treatment with the best medicines on the market, including the breast cancer ‘wonder drug’ Herceptin, may be susceptible to the vaccine.
If all goes well, the vaccine – called ImMucin – could be on the market by 2020.
More than 300,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed in Britain each year and the disease kills around half this number annually.
Rather than attacking cancer cells, like many drugs, the new treatment harnesses the power of the immune system to fight tumours.
The search for cancer vaccines has until now been hampered by fears that healthy tissue would be destroyed with tumours.
Researchers from the drug company Vaxil Biotheraputics and Tel Aviv University have focused on a protein called MUC1 that is made in bigger amounts in cancerous cells than in healthy ones.
Not only is there more of it, but a sugar that it is ‘decorated’ with has a distinctive shape.
The vaccine ‘trains’ the immune system to recognise the rogue sugar and turn its arsenal against the cancer.
The misshaped MUC1 sugar is found in 90 per cent of all cancers. There have been ‘dramatic’ results in tests on mice with breast tumours.
Now, Vaxil Biotheraputics have announced promising results in a human safety trial.
Ten patients suffering from multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, have now received the vaccine received the vaccine at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem.
Seven of the patients have finished the treatment and Vaxil reported that all of them had greater immunity against cancer cells compared to before they were given the vaccine. Of the seven, three patients are reportedly free of detectable cancer.
None of them have reported suffering side-effects apart from minor irritation.
A statement from Vaxil Biotheraputics said: ‘ImMucin generated a robust and specific immune response in all patients which was observed after only 2-4 doses of the vaccine out of a maximum of 12 doses.
‘In some of the patients, preliminary signs of clinical efficacy were observed.’
Years of large-scale human trials will be needed before the drug is judged safe and effective for widespread use in hospitals.
It could then be used with existing drugs to boost treatment and given to prevent tumours from coming back after surgery.
Men and women known to be at high risk of cancer because of their genes could also be vaccinated in an attempt to stop tumours from appearing.
Dr Caitlin Palframan, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘This exciting new approach could lead to treatments for breast cancer patients who have few options.
‘It also opens up the possibility of vaccinating high-risk women against breast cancer in the future.’