Researchers highlight knowledge gaps hindering cancer vaccines

Understanding of cancer has advanced significantly over the past decade, yet--as the succession of late-phase vaccine flops shows--critical gaps in knowledge of the disease remain. Failure to tackle these gaps in breast cancer could see the loss of around 185,000 lives in the United Kingdom by 2030.

The warning comes from British charity Breast Cancer Campaign, which last year set up a series of events to bring together 100 scientists, clinicians and healthcare professionals. Discussions at these events led to the identification of 10 critical gaps in understanding of breast cancer, which--unless addressed--will hamper the ability to treat the disease. Part of the challenge is how to turn insights gained over the past 5 years into therapies that improve the lives of patients.

Writing in the journal Breast Cancer Research this week, the British researchers highlight how vaccines could help, if understanding of their role in treating disease improves. The potential for radiotherapy to immunize a patient against cancer--effectively turning the tumor into a vaccine--is singled out as warranting further research. Having initially met with skepticism, evidence in support of the theory has mounted in recent years, culminating in the researchers calling for randomized controlled trials to investigate the treatment.

At the same time, a deeper knowledge of the disease is needed to understand why such trials fail and find new treatments. "New strategies for enhancing natural immunity or eliminating suppressor functions are required. There is a need for better animal models for evaluating immunotherapeutic strategies and in deciphering possible contributions to lack of responsiveness," the researchers wrote.

- here's the paper
- check out the charity's release
- read the Guardian's take

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