April 11, 2018

Penn's tumor vaccine shows promise to fight cancer in early tests

Cancer Research Vaccines
Stock_Carroll - Penn Medicine Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Smilow Center for Translational Research at the University of Pennsylvania.

Researchers at Penn Medicine say they have achieved an important breakthrough in the world of precision cancer treatment — a vaccine that may be able to beat back tumors with a patient's own immune cells.

In a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine describe promising results from a pilot study that tested personalized vaccines on 25 ovarian cancer patients.

The vaccines were developed by exposing a patient's immune cells to the contents of their tumor cell in the laboratory. This combination was then injected into the patients to induce a wider immune response.

“The idea is to mobilize an immune response that will target the tumor very broadly, hitting a variety of markers including some that would be found only on that particular tumor,” said lead author Janos L. Tanyi, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Medicine.

Current cancer vaccines are generally designed to target a specific molecule found on cancerous cells in any patient with a particular tumor type.

The vaccines used in this study, designed in collaboration with the Lausanne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, factor in the mutations of each patient's tumor. It is considered "tumor-wide" because it aims to stimulate an immune response against hundreds or thousands of potential tumor-associated targets instead of just one held in common among most patients.

About half of the vaccinated patients in the study showed T-cells that responded by attacking cancer cells. Those in the group that responded tended to live longer without tumor progression than those who didn’t respond.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the Marcus Foundation, the Ovarian Cancer Immunotherapy Initiative, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Lausanne and the Ovacure Foundation.

“This vaccine appears to be safe for patients, and elicits a broad anti-tumor immunity," Tanyi said. "We think it warrants further testing in larger clinical trials."