Cancer Treatment Gets Personal

Thanks To New Vaccine Technology Tailored To The Individual’s Immune System

Personalized medicine is defined as a medical model that “proposes the customization of healthcare – with medical decisions, practices, and/or products being tailored to the individual patient.”  What if new cancer treatments could be more effective by utilizing this model and harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system?

That’s what researchers were trying to find out in a recent study designed to see if a cancer “vaccine” could be created. The vaccine would contain triggers that stimulated the patient’s T-cells to identify and attack specifically the cancer cells themselves.  In other words, the body’s natural defenses—previously dormant—would be called into action and could fight the disease without the side effects of chemotherapy or other treatments. The study, focused on three melanoma patients, was led by Dr. Beatriz Carreno at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WashU) and has garnered significant interest from the scientific and medical communities and the general public.

Researchers started the study by sequencing the genomes of each patient’s tumors. From this genetic information, they identified peptides that would show up on the tumor surface. The peptides act as “flags” that could trigger the immune system.

Trouble is, there can be hundreds of these “flags” on the tumor surface. However, if certain “flags” can be singled out as priority targets, and a vaccine then tailored to the patient to “remind” the immune system to specifically attack only tumor cells bearing these “flags” on the surface, a new weapon in the cancer battle can be deployed.

As part of the study, Emergent Technologies’ portfolio company Pure Protein (and its subsidiary, Pure MHC) applied its technology and expertise to test tumor targets using its HLA peptide-binding assay, to determine if the tumor targets would bind to an HLA molecule, and later to demonstrate that tumor targets in the vaccine were able to elicit anti-tumor immunity.

Results of vaccinating patients with the tumor target vaccine—though very preliminary—were encouraging.  For each patient, seven peptide markers were selected to test, and the patients’ immune systems elicited a robust T-cell response to three of the peptides. Patients not only produced more T-cells to fight the cancer, but they produced different types of T-cells.

This could mean that cancer patients have natural resources for fighting their disease that have not been activated, and that—given the right triggers—could be called upon to complement other treatments.  In theory, different “personalized” vaccines could be created for different cancers, thus giving each patient a very customized program of treatment.

While it is still too early to tell if this approach could make overall cancer treatment more effective, it signals that we may be able to utilize a powerful (and potentially safer) new resource in cancer treatment:  our own body’s natural defense system.

You can read more in depth about the study, Pure Protein’s role in it, and what others are saying about the research, by clicking here.

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