The modern practice of vaccination began with Edward Jenner in 1796, when he inoculated an 8-year-old boy with pus from a cowpox sore, protecting the child against the devastating disease smallpox. For many years, vaccines were associated with the prevention of infectious diseases, but gradually, research began to harness the activity of the immune system to prevent disease as well as treat it, starting in the field of oncology.
The first cancer vaccines to reach the market were Oncophage from Antigenics (now Agenus), which gained approval in Russia in 2008 for the treatment of kidney cancer, and Dendreon's ($DNDN) sipuleucel-T (Provenge), which gained FDA approval in 2010 for the treatment of metastatic hormone-refractory prostate cancer. Provenge's complex production process, requiring preparation of an individual vaccine for each patient, has perhaps contributed to its lack of uptake, and most of the cancer vaccines in development are off-the-shelf rather than produced for each patient, and are tailored to groups of patients rather than individuals.
Following along behind therapeutic cancer vaccines are virally targeted therapeutic vaccines, such as those against HIV, and vaccines that cross the boundary between infectious diseases and cancer--the HPV-targeted vaccines for very early-stage cervical cancer and precancerous lesions.
This FierceVaccines special report spotlights 10 promising therapeutic vaccines on their way through clinical development that might just change the face of cancer treatment. Many of them are in the early steps of R&D, so it may be a while, especially for those that are first-in-class, or that are bringing a new technology to the table, but they could be the first baby steps to a brave new world. -- Suzanne Elvidge (email)