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Cancer immunotherapy update

24 November 2014

Highlights from our cancer immunotherapy research programmes, led by Associate Professor Ian Hermans.

Melanoma vaccine

Our melanoma vaccine involves modifying blood cells from an individual so that they trigger immune responses to a protein found only in tumour tissue. The cells are grown and processed in the lab and returned to the patient. This vaccine is being tested in a Phase I clinical trial (which started in late 2013), to determine an appropriate dose for a larger study (scheduled for 2015), which will examine the size and the quality of generated immune responses.

Leukaemia vaccine

Patients suffering from leukaemia often respond well to chemotherapy, but some leukaemia cells commonly become resistant to the treatment and the disease recurs. In our preclinical work, we have shown that a vaccine targeting leukaemia can potentially be used to protect patients from a relapse once they are in remission after chemotherapy.

Brain cancer vaccine

There is no standard treatment for recurrent glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and most aggressive malignant primary brain tumour in humans. We have completed a Phase I clinical trial combining a cell-based vaccine with chemotherapy for patients with this disease. While manufacturing the vaccine from a patient’s own cells often proved difficult in this advanced disease setting, we found some evidence that the vaccines could induce immune responses. In light of these results we have been focussing on much simpler vaccine formats, which we hope to test in the future.

Synthetic vaccine

An alternative approach to cell- based vaccines is to use a completely synthetic ‘off-the-shelf’ design, which avoids the need to make an individualised vaccine from each patient’s blood. This fully synthetic vaccine (which also includes an adjuvant) is being tested using blood samples to check its effectiveness in humans. Some exciting preliminary results have been obtained.