Global Independent Analytics

'Universal cancer vaccine’ breakthrough claimed by scientists

“Although the research is very interesting, it is still some way away from being of proven benefit to patients“

The Independent reporting: Scientists are one step away from creating a universal vaccine against cancer that will make body cells attack tumors as if they were a simple virus.

Writing in Nature, an international team of researchers described how they had taken pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code, put them into tiny nanoparticles of fat and then injected the mixture into the bloodstreams of three patients in the advanced stages of the disease.

In response, the patients' immune systems produced "killer" T-cells specifically to attack cancer.

The vaccine had shown the same efficiency in combating the “aggressively growing” tumors in mice, according to researchers, who were led by Professor Ugur Sahin from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany.

“[Such] vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumor antigen [a protein attacked by the immune system] can be encoded by RNA," they wrote

“Thus, the nanoparticulate RNA immunotherapy approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy.”

Professor Alan Melcher, of the Institute of Cancer Research, said: “Immunotherapy for cancer is a rapidly evolving and exciting field. This new study, in mice and a small number of patients, shows that an immune response against the antigens within a cancer can be triggered by a new type of cancer vaccine.

“Although the research is very interesting, it is still some way away from being of proven benefit to patients.  

“In particular, there is uncertainty around whether the therapeutic benefit seen in the mice by targeting a small number of antigens will also apply to humans, and the practical challenge of manufacturing nanoparticles for widespread clinical application.”

Dr. Helen Rippon, chief executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, said “We know the immune system has great potential to be manipulated and reactivated to fight cancer cells, that’s why we’ve been funding research into this for 15 years. 

“These are exciting and novel results, showing the promise of an RNA nanoparticle vaccine to do just that.”

She described the immune response in the three patients as “positive” and noted that advanced skin cancer was “a notoriously difficult cancer to treat.” 

“However, more research is needed in a larger number of people with different cancer types and over longer periods of time before we could say we have discovered a ‘universal cancer vaccine.' But this research is a very positive step forwards towards this global goal,” she said.

By Stefan Paraber for GIA

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