20th August 2016

Vaccine Research

Cancer vaccines have the potential to cure cancer without the unpleasant side effects of other therapies

Many years of research have gone into the vaccine approach to treating cancer. It is based on the ability of the immune system to destroy cancer cells. A cancer patient’s immune system is in fact, important for most cancer treatments to work. For example, once chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery has removed most of a patient’s cancer cells the immune system destroys the remaining cells, otherwise, cancer would come back. Unfortunately, many treatments damage the immune system initially, but in recent years treatments that enhance the immune system, such as checkpoint inhibitors (CPIs) have shown exciting patient benefits, albeit with some side effects.

Cancer vaccines have the potential to cure cancer without the unpleasant side effects of other therapies. They are designed to specifically activate the immune system and direct it against molecular markers (tumour antigens) found on cancer cells. In this way, the immune system can seek and destroy cancer cells without harming normal cells in the body. There are various ways of raising immune responses against cancer cells and the term ‘cancer vaccine’ can be applied to a number of different types of product. Current research indicates that the most effective method of immunising may be to use cells that carry tumour antigens but do not in themselves cause cancer. In fact, the only cancer vaccine that specifically targets a patient’s own tumour antigen to get FDA approval is made of cells. The FDA-approved vaccine is made of the patient’s own cells but research indicates that cells from another person enhance immune responses to cancer.

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Other information

Cancer Research UK provides some very useful background on Cancer Vaccines at Background to Cancer Vaccines