When people hear the word “vaccine”, they often think about vaccine’s preventive function that protects people from getting infectious diseases such as flu, hepatitis or Covid-19. It’s true that traditional vaccines are developed to prevent infectious diseases, but innovative scientists are developing therapeutic vaccines that can treat various non-infectious diseases, including several types of cancer, after patients have the diseases.
With the help of modern technologies, scientists are able to create personalized vaccines based on the information obtained from patient’s cancer tissues so that the vaccines can induce and amplify specific groups of T-cells existing in patient’s immune system and initiate a stronger and broader anti-cancer immune response to kill the cancer that present the neoantigens, the protein molecules only appeared in cancer cells. As normal cells don’t present the neoantigens, vaccines designed to target them could be used as effective cancer therapeutics.
Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston are front runners in clinical development of personalized therapeutic vaccines against melanoma, a very dangerous type of skin cancer. Recently, they presented very promising results from their clinical trials on 8 melanoma patients treated with NeoVax, or “Personalized NeoAntigen Cancer Vaccine”, that targets up to 20 personal neoantigens per patient.
The clinical results showed that almost 4 years after the treatment with NeoVax, all patients were alive and six of them didn’t show detective evidence of active disease. Furthermore, the researchers found that the immune response of neoantigen-specific T-cell can still be detected 4 years after the vaccination, which demonstrated the long-term persistence of the T-cell based cancer immunity. From the results of laboratory tests, they also detected that the neoantigen-specific T-cells actually penetrated into the tumor tissue after the vaccination, suggesting the vaccine-induced tumor cell killing is working on the right track as designed.
Personalized therapeutic vaccines are novel and effective treatment options for melanoma cancer patients. As the vaccine’s design and development are based on the genetic and molecular information obtained from the tumor tissues removed by biopsy procedures or surgeries, melanoma cancer patients who are scheduled for those medical procedures should ask their doctors about the eligibility to participate in such a clinical trial beforehand.
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- Personal neoantigen vaccines induce persistent memory T cell responses and epitope spreading in patients with melanoma. Nature Medicine, 21 January (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-01206-4
- An immunogenic personal neoantigen vaccine for patients with melanoma. Nature,547: 217–221 (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28678778/