Cancer vaccines may start arriving at clinics in five years, researcher says

New cancer vaccine research shines a positive light on the possibility of cancer vaccines. Three new vaccines are being studied in patients with pancreatic and breast cancer and colon polyps, The New York Times reported Oct. 10.

The pancreatic cancer vaccine underwent its first safety study with 12 patients with early stage cancer. Patients were already treated with surgery but still expected to have a 70 to 80 percent chance of recurrence after a few years. Two years after receiving the vaccine, patients have not yet had a recurrence. 

A new breast cancer vaccine also underwent testing in women with advanced cancer that was well established. Researchers wanted to demonstrate the vaccine could provide an immune response that would help in the early course of the disease. Results have not yet been released, but Mary Disis, MD, director of the Cancer Vaccine Institute at Seattle-based University of Washington, told the Times, "This would be proof the vaccine has a cleansing effect."

Polyps have a chance of turning into colorectal cancer. Olivera Finn, PhD, and Robert Schoen, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, created a vaccine to try to prevent precancerous colon polyps. The vaccine worked in mice but when applied in a study of 102 people, only a quarter of the vaccinated group developed an immune response, and there was no significant reduction in the rate of polyp recurrence. Dr. Finn, whom the Times credits as one of the first cancer vaccine researchers, and her team are working to improve their vaccine. 

However, there is still hope for cancer vaccines to hit the market. Dr. Disis predicts the first ones will help prevent recurrences in patients whose cancer was successfully treated. 

"I really think we will see a few vaccines approved for clinic in the next five years," she told the Times.

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