Breast cancer research investigating vaccines to prevent relapse
The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research’s cancer immunotherapy team has been given the green light to investigate new potential vaccines for breast cancer thanks to a Health Research Council (HRC), Breast Cancer Cure and Breast Cancer Foundation NZ grant worth up to $248,900 over the next two years.
The research, led by Dr Robert Weinkove, Clinical Director at the Malaghan Institute, will focus on new classes of cancer vaccines, which aim to target the disease.
“One of the major areas for improvement of existing treatments is preventing late relapses,” says Dr Weinkove. “In breast cancer, this can happen many years after a patient's initial treatment. Metastasis – the spread of the cancer cells from the place where they first formed – is a devastating event.”
The research builds on a collaboration with Victoria University of Wellington’s Ferrier Research Institute, which has Breast Cancer Foundation NZ funding to develop synthetic breast cancer vaccines.
Dr Weinkove says his team will be investigating how new classes of cancer vaccines might protect against breast cancer metastases in different organs, such as the bone marrow, liver and lung.
“By using targeted vaccines to induce a powerful immune response in the tissues where cancer is at risk of recurring later in life, the ultimate goal of this research is to provide protect against relapse in breast cancer patients.”
The research team is looking at vaccines directed against a marker on cells called HER2. “HER2 is the target of breast cancer drugs such as Herceptin, and is expressed in around 20– 30% of breast cancers. Without targeted therapy, HER2 is associated with increased risk of recurrence. We’re particularly interested in immune responses against HER2 in different organs, to help determine how these vaccines might be best used.”
The project is managed through the HRC's Partnership Programme, through which the HRC forms strategic partnerships with funders and stakeholders.
HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson, welcomes the research. “There is growing evidence that treatments, like vaccines, that positively harness or promote our own body’s responses really do hold hope for better outcomes for people with cancer, and a number of other conditions. We are delighted to work with our funding partners to support this work at the Malaghan Institute and look forward to hearing the results.”