Personalized cancer vaccines

Topic: Personalized cancer vaccines for breast, pancreatic cancers show promise

The COVID-19 vaccines — designed using bits of genetic information that prime our immune systems to recognize and fight off viral infections — have become lifesavers in the global fight to end the pandemic.

Now, new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has shown that a similar vaccine approach can be used to create personalized vaccines that program the immune system to attack malignant tumors, including breast and pancreatic cancers.

The tailor-made vaccines are designed to target mutated proteins called neoantigens that are unique to a patient’s tumors. Unlike the COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech that rely on genetic material called mRNA, the personalized cancer vaccines are made using DNA.

“We took a small tissue sample from a tumor in a 25-year-old male patient with late-stage pancreatic cancer and used it to develop a personalized vaccine based on the unique genetic information in that tumor,” said William Gillanders, MD, senior author and professor of surgery at the School of Medicine. “We think this is the first report of the use of a neoantigen DNA vaccine in a human, and our monitoring confirms the vaccine was successful in prompting an immune response that targeted specific neoantigens in the patient’s tumor.”

Published April 20 in the journal Genome Medicine, the study explores how techniques used to create personalized cancer vaccines can be improved to help the body unleash a more effective, longer-lasting, tumor-fighting immune response.

The findings also show that a personalized DNA vaccine coupled with other immunotherapies can generate a robust immune response capable of shrinking breast cancers in mice. While the DNA vaccine did not shrink tumors in the pancreatic cancer patient, it did produce a measurable immune response that targeted the tumor.

Gillanders, who treats breast cancer patients at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, said DNA vaccine platforms offer some important advantages over other personalized vaccine platforms now in early clinical trials, such as those relying on mRNA, dendritic cells and synthetic peptides.

Topic Discussed: Personalized cancer vaccines for breast, pancreatic cancers show promise

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