'It could be revolutionary': Researchers inch closer to cancer vaccine

Early research hints at the possibility of a vaccine for cancerous tumors, but the science is years away from regulators' approval, The Washington Post reported June 14. 

National Cancer Institute researchers have their eyes set on preventive and therapeutic vaccines that exclusively target cancerous cells, according to the Post

"The idea of a cancer vaccine is to activate the immune system to pick out ways that the cancer is different from normal cells, recognize them as foreign and reject them," the chief of NCI's vaccine branch, Jay Berzofsky, MD, PhD, told the Post

The University of Pittsburgh is also investigating a potential vaccine after immunology professor Olivera Finn, PhD, and her colleagues discovered a tumor-specific antigen, MUC1, that exists in "several types of cancers, including colon, breast, prostate, lung and pancreatic," according to the Post

Vaccines personalized for one patient, neoantigens, have produced positive results in small, preliminary trials. In one study published in Nature, four out of six skin cancer patients were in remission 25 months after receiving a personalized vaccine. 

"The big advantage of neoantigen vaccines is that they can produce a strong immune response because they are tailored to the individual tumor and look foreign to the patient's immune system," Dr. Berzofsky told the Post. "Also, advances in mRNA technology — the same technology that quickly gave us effective COVID-19 vaccines — means that neoantigen vaccines can be made rapidly, removing a major past obstacle."

A third approach involves a six-dose vaccine with HER2 antibodies for breast cancer patients. Cancer vaccine researcher Keith Knutson, PhD, and breast surgeon Amy Degnim, MD, who both work for the Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, developed the treatment. 

They're also working on a preventive treatment for people with high risk for breast cancer. After safety studies are approved and if the drug proves effective, "it could be revolutionary," Dr. Degnim told the Post.

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