'Universal' cancer vaccine not miraculous but could bring hope

Around 90 percent of all cancers have the MUC1 antigen on the surface of the cells, making it an obvious target for cancer drugs, and the Israeli company Vaxil BioTherapeutics is making the most of this with its experimental peptide vaccine ImMucin.

The vaccine is in Phase I/II trials in 15 patients with multiple myeloma recurring after remission. Multiple myeloma is a bone marrow cancer where the plasma cells grow out of control. The 7 patients that have completed the treatment so far show early signs that the vaccine is working--immune responses after two to four shots of the vaccine, disease markers steadying or decreasing and a fall in the number of plasma cells. Three of the patients are now back in remission.

Dr. Kat Arney, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, told the U.K. Daily Telegraph: "There are several groups around the world investigating treatments that target MUC1, as it's a very interesting target involved in several types of cancer. These are very early results that are yet to be fully published, so there's a lot more work to be done to prove that this particular vaccine is safe and effective in cancer patients."

This story hit the news worldwide a big way, with journalists talking about miracle cures and drugs that could treat 90 percent of cancers, and online commentators trashing the story and complaining about science, big pharma and the length of time that it will take to reach the market. Realistically, it is a story about interim Phase I/II data, so by its very nature it's unpublished and hasn't been peer reviewed, and is only from a small group of patients with a single type of cancer. And realistically, it is years off the market. But the results are at the very least interesting, and support the other clinical and preclinical research going ahead with MUC1.

- read the press release
- check out the article in the Daily Telegraph
- see the blog post from Cancer Research UK