Possible Personalized Cancer Vaccine in Development
Professor Vincenzo Cerullo from the University of Helsinki has made a breakthrough in cancer therapy which could revolutionize treatment. Cerullo discovered a way to direct the immune system to attack cancer cells, much in the same way it handles regular viruses.
The immune system struggles to mobilize against tumors because the constituent cancer cells are recognized by the defense system as its own tissue. The Cerullo’s vaccine, PeptiCRAd, tricks the immune system into recognizing cancer cells.
PeptiCRAd introduces an adenovirus, coated in peptides taken from the patient’s cancer cells, to the body. The adenovirus triggers the immune system to destroy the infection while also familiarizing it with peptide molecules. The immune system is then primed against these peptides, seeks them out, and destroys them. Because the treatment requires peptides from an individual’s tumor, this method would create personalized treatments for each patient.
Professor Cerullo’s vaccine has proven successful in animal models and is proceeding to clinical human trials. The vaccine is so promising that it has attracted widespread international funding and ignited hope for future cancer treatments that rely on immunotherapy.
In a similar vein, Amgen registered a first-of-its-kind cancer vaccine in October of 2015 and received FDA approval. This therapy, Imlygic, uses an oncolytic virus to treat non-resectable malignant melanoma.
Amgen created an oncolytic virus by inserting a modified gene code into herpes viruses. These modified viruses then target melanoma cells, which they enter and replicate, eventually bursting the cancer cells in the process. These dying cells spread more oncolytic virus into the patient’s circulation, where they release tumor-specific antigens which stimulates a further immune response against cancer cells.
The side effects of this new vaccine tend to be mild and include chills, fever, nausea, and irritation at the site of vaccine injection. But, these reactions are especially mild considering how taxing the side-effects are for modern chemotherapies, plus the vaccine can also be combined alongside other adjuvant therapies. The main proviso for Imlygic is that pregnant women or those with a weak immune system should not receive the vaccine because it introduces herpes virus into the body and needs a strong immune system to keep it in check.
Imlygic was injected into non-resectable melanomas and caused a significant reduction in tumor size for at least six months in 16.3% of patients. In 2015 alone, 74,000 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the United States and there were 10,000 melanoma-related deaths. By 2025, the CDC projects that 19.3 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed annually.
The strides that professors like Cerullo and companies like Amgen are making offer an exciting new outlooks for the future of cancer treatment.