Experimental 'universal’ cancer vaccine tested in early trial

Despite years of noted failures and struggles in the field, groups are pushing on in cancer vaccines with a variety of approaches. In new work published in Nature, a team claims it may have the beginnings of what could become a “universal” cancer vaccine.

For their work in animals and in a small number of advanced melanoma patients, the group placed RNA code from cancer into fat nanoparticles and injected the mix into the bloodstream of study participants and mice, resulting in the patients producing anticancerous T cells.

In speaking with The Independent in the U.K., study supervisor Professor Ugur Sahin from Johannes Gutenburg University said the vaccines are “fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumour antigen can be encoded by RNA,” making the process easy to replicate.

Only three patients were involved at low doses, The Independent reported, with one’s suspected tumor shrinking in size. A second, whose tumor was surgically removed, remained cancer-free after 7 months, and the third patient’s tumors were “clinically stable.” The early trial did not seek to test how well the vaccine worked, the publication noted.

In mice, the vaccine was effective against “aggressively growing” tumors, the paper said.

While the work is in early stages, it could play a role in the still-unfolding cancer vaccines field that has seen an influx of funding in the last year following years of struggles and failures. Personalized cancer vaccines have gained steam over the last several months, with newly launched biotechs Gritstone Oncology, Neon Therapeutics and Caperna working with neoantigens in their efforts to drive an anticancerous response.

Okairos, launched last month with $13 million, is seeking to use oncolytic viruses to attack cancer cells, hoping to do better than Amgen’s T-Vec, a pioneering immunotherapy approved last year.

Other efforts from Bavarian Nordic and Aduro have attracted Big Pharma partnerships, one factor a report last year said would drive cancer vaccines to a CAGR of more than 27% through 2019.

- here's The Independent's story

- and the study paper

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