Scientists from the University of Oxford and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research are developing a vaccine to treat cancer. After the success of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, they have utilized the technology involved in the Covid-19 jab to find the cure against cancer. Researchers have now designed a two-dose therapeutic (means curing) cancer vaccine using Oxford’s modern ‘viral vector’ vaccine technique.
Viral vector-based vaccines differ from most conventional vaccines as they use the body’s own cells to produce them with the help of a modified virus (the vector).
Vaccine research has advanced so much in the wake of the pandemic that now scientists are working with greater resources to try and find vaccines to treat cancer. Newer technologies are coming forward that can use mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines that provide immunity against viral infections to tackle other diseases such as cancer.
The vaccine is set to enter human trials this year after studies in mice showed a reduction in tumor size and improved survival rate. During the trial on the mouse tumor models, the vaccine had shown an increase in the levels of anti-tumor T cells. T cells are a part of our immune system which are naturally formed in the bone marrow and protect us from infections and cancer. The vaccine will help in the infiltration of the tumors and improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy. The early-stage trial for humans will enroll 80 patients with non-small cell lung cancer.
How does immunotherapy for cancer work?
The process of cancer immunotherapy involves turning a patient’s own immune system against the tumor cells. PD-1 is a checkpoint protein that normally acts as a ‘switch off’ to prevent the T cells from attacking other cells in the body. Anti-PD-1 immunotherapy works by taking the brakes off these anti-tumor T cells, and enable them to kill cancer cells. Although this therapy has proved hugely successful among a huge number of cancer patients, it is yet ineffective for those in the 3rd or 4th stages of cancer.
How AstraZeneca cancer vaccine will prove its effectiveness?
After researchers sighted low levels of anti-tumor T cells in some patients due to the poor efficacy of immunotherapy, they tried further to find the complete cure & treatment. They observed that the vaccine technology behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine generates strong CD8+ T cell responses, which are required for good anti-tumor effects.
In their study, the researchers developed a two-dose therapeutic cancer vaccine with different prime and boost viral vectors. They created a vaccine that specifically targets cancer cells, and designed it to target two MAGE-type proteins that are present on the surface of many types of cancer cells. Previously, these two targets were validated by the Ludwig Institute for cancer treatment.
The clinical trial of AstraZeneca cancer vaccine & more
The professor of Tumor Immunology at the University of Oxford, Benoit Van den Eynde said: “We knew from our previous research that MAGE-type proteins act like red flags on the surface of cancer cells to attract immune cells that destroy tumors.”
This means that the MAGE proteins have an advantage over other cancer antigens (a cancer antigen is a substance that is produced in tumor cells) since these proteins target a wide range of tumor types. But the use of this new cancer vaccine can broaden the potential benefit over various types of cancers. It can effectively destroy abnormal cells in the body.
In the next step of this research, scientists will carry out a Phase 1/2a clinical trial of the cancer vaccine in combination with the existing anti-PD-1 immunotherapy. They will aim to treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer. This trial is yet due and will take place later this year as a collaboration between Vaccitech Oncology Limited (VOLT) and Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development.
Co-Director of Oxford Cancer in the University, Tim Elliott Kidani said: “In Oxford, we are combining our fundamental scientific expertise in immunology and antigen discovery with translational research on vaccine platforms. By bringing these teams together, we can continue to address the significant challenge of broadening the positive impact of immunotherapy to benefit more patients.”
Further information regarding the success of the cancer vaccine can be predicted after successful human trials. If this happens, treatment against various cancers may become a lot more effective when combined with other treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.