vaccine parenteral vialResearchers at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany have released results from an early human trial, as well as mouse model studies, evaluating the impact of a “universal cancer vaccine.” Although vaccines are often thought of as preventive in nature, this vaccine is administered to patients that have been diagnosed with cancer already.

The scientists are using a new nanoparticulate RNA immunotherapy approach — wrapping cancer RNA in a fatty acid membrane and giving it a negative charge — to get the attention of T cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.  Conducted on only three melanoma patients, the human research is still very early and requires additional patient follow up, but the data is promising thus far. As with any Phase I study, the main goal is assessment of safety. The trial was a success in that regard, with side effects limited to only flu-like symptoms.

On the topic of being a “universal vaccine,” the scientist say that they can tweak the vaccine to address any type of cancer.  To date, no human studies have been conducted with the vaccine on any other cancer patients. A vaccine can have many benefits compared with current cancer therapies. For starters, they have far fewer side-effects than chemotherapy. In the case of vaccines such as the German one or ProscaVax, a prostate cancer vaccine of OncBioMune Pharmaceuticals, the vaccines are inexpensive and quickly produced compared with other immunotherapies.

“The history of cancer vaccines has been spotty at best,” commented Dr Jonathan Head, CEO at OncBioMune (OBMP), in a phone conversation. “In recent years, the field seems to be getting some traction with some exciting human studies being conducted in the US and abroad.”

Dr Head was referring to not only his company’s clinical research of ProscaVax, but also the German study and a new vaccine being tested in England. In February, a 35-year-old British woman with advanced cervical cancer was the first patient to be treated with a vaccine using a tiny piece of the antigen human telomerase reverse transcriptase to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells.

OncBioMune uses PSA, short for prostate specific antigens, coupled with biological adjuvants interleukin-2 and GM-CSF (Granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor) in its vaccine to stimulate the immune system to inhibit prostate tumour growth. In the same vein as the German vaccine, Dr Head explained that ProscaVax is built on a platform technology where the antigen can be changed to address different types of cancer. In broader initial studies, hundreds of patients have been vaccinated. Breast and prostate cancer patients were most frequently vaccinated, with other cancer types including, but not limited to, colon, ovarian, lung and melanoma. Zero toxicity has been reported with the vaccine, regardless of cancer type.

OncBioMune is currently focused on prostate cancer. A Phase I trial is near completion in California and a Phase II/III trial is expected to begin through a joint venture in Mexico in the third quarter of this year, while another Phase II trial is being prepared in the US in the Harvard Medical School network of hospitals. OncBioMune recently provided an update on clinical studies and attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which can be read here.

When asked if he sees a cure for cancer on the horizon, Dr Head was quick to point out that the media often overuses the word “cure” and that there is a lot of work to be done across the entire oncology field. “A cure, per se, is obviously the end goal,” he said.  “Tumours are extremely shifty and there are countless different tumour types, even within the same organ of origin. As a field, we’re making strides all the time and I take every advancement to deliver a better therapeutic option as a win for cancer patients in working towards that goal.”