Cancer Vaccines: A Report from the World - Day Two


International symposium showcases promise of cancer vaccine development

New York (October 5th) -- The human immune system is a potent force that protects the body, usually very successfully, against invasion by foreign entities. There have also been clear indications that the immune system is able to protect us, to some extent, against cancer. Lacking thus far from the oncologist's arsenal has been a means of specifically stimulating the immune system to make a sustained and strong attack against the formation of tumors, their return after surgery or treatment, and/or their spread. However, presentations on the second day of the 2004 installment of the acclaimed International Cancer Immunotherapy Symposia Series, organized by the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) in New York, indicated that the arsenal may one day have several new types of weapon.

The immune system is composed of a complex assortment of cells, each with its own specialized function and role in the immunological response, and a battery of chemicals that regulate the specialized cells by stimulating or inhibiting their activity. According to Dr. Jill O'Donnell-Tormey, Executive-Director of the CRI, understanding the hierarchy of signals between the chemicals, immune system cells and cancer cells, and then finding ways to harness the immune system components to fight cancer is an enormous task, but one that is slowly being accomplished. "The field of cancer immunology, although still relatively young, has made great advances in knowledge over the last five years. I know from our own experience that CRI-funded research is evolving ever more rapidly, making basic discoveries that are translating into clinical trials with increasing success."

To take cancer immunology discoveries into clinical trials, the CRI and its partner, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), established the Cancer Vaccine Collaborative (CVC) in 2000. Presentations by CVC investigators from Australia, Germany and New York exemplified the progress of cancer vaccines based on the paradigm of traditional infectious disease vaccines; delivery of an 'antigen', a protein fragment found on cancer cells, and an 'adjuvant', that amplifies the immune system's response to cancer cells carrying that antigen. One such vaccine, based on the NY-ESO-1 antigen and the ISCOMATRIXTM adjuvant from CSL Limited, Australia, has shown great promise in a Phase I trial in melanoma patients, inducing a comprehensive and strong immunological response and showing hints of being able to prolong melanoma relapse. In another trial in Germany, a vaccine composed of NY-ESO-1 and an inactive virus was also able to induce comprehensive and strong immunological responses.

"There's no doubt about it, cancer vaccine development is all about one small step at a time," says Dr. O'Donnell-Tormey. "It's about comparing many variables, antigen, adjuvant, delivery method, frequency of delivery and so on, until we know how to best stimulate a strong, sustained, cancer-specific response. One small step at a time, but the journey is certainly worth it when you consider the promise that cancer vaccines hold for treating cancer and controlling its return."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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