Treatment for mesothelioma can stop tumor growth or even kill tumors and show a clean bill of health on imaging scans.
The issue is keeping the clean bill of health once treatment ends.
What if there was a treatment to keep mesothelioma cancer from returning?
Doctors in the United Kingdom administered a patient-specific cancer vaccine. While there are other cancer vaccines, this is the first of its kind – the first to create a personalized vaccine tailored to the patient’s biology. The trial is for patients with head and neck cancer.
While the trial isn’t for malignant mesothelioma, the science behind this vaccine could translate to help patients of this cancer. Mesothelioma recurrence is a concern for patients after treatment, so a preventative therapy tackling this element is of vital importance.
A preventative cancer vaccine may save hundreds – if not thousands – of American lives just for mesothelioma. The fast-spreading nature of this cancer can leave patients with little or no treatments available.
TG4050 Cancer Vaccine Study Treats First Patient
The vaccine, called TG4050, is in a phase 1 clinical trial at three hospitals in the United Kingdom, two in France, and the Jacksonville, Florida branch of Mayo Clinic. The clinical study has room for up to 30 participants, and Medical News Today reported the first patient received his tailored vaccine in the United Kingdom.
Patients receive the vaccine as an injection under their skin. It’s administered weekly for six weeks and then once every three weeks for up to two years. The trial has two arms: patients receiving the vaccine immediately after treatment ends; and patients receiving the vaccine once recurrence begins.
While the vaccine is for a patient with head and neck cancer, success in the trial may translate to other cancers, including mesothelioma.
What Are Cancer Vaccines?
Cancer vaccines are a form of immunotherapy – strengthening the immune system to recognize signs of cancer cells. It’s more a preventative therapy than a reactionary treatment like immune checkpoint inhibitors. Vaccines are intended to block the growth or re-growth of tumors by forming a partnership with the immune system.
The issue with cancer is the cells grow from our natural body tissue, so the immune system doesn’t naturally label cancer as an unwanted inhabitant. The immune system focuses on intruders like bacteria and viruses.
The purpose of cancer vaccines is to train the patient’s immune system to swat cancer cells back into hiding. They serve as extra gatekeepers to help the immune system keep the cancer dormant, until hopefully it dies in the normal cell cycle.
“This is done by targeting certain proteins called neoantigens, which are only present on the surface of malignant cells,” Dr. Soheila Borhani, a cancer researcher at the University of Illinois, told Medical News Today. “The big challenge here is that there is a very large number of possible neoantigens that can be created as a result of genetic mutations in the tumor DNA.”
Most cancer vaccines are allogeneic, meaning they are made in large batches with the same DNA. They all include the same antigen targets. It’s much easier and quicker to make allogeneic vaccines. However, the issue is not every patient’s cancer is the same and some cancer cells feature different antigens.
The cancer vaccine in this new study features an autologous design, meaning it is made for one individual patient based on their DNA. Autologous is another way of saying the treatment is personalized – or customized. While producing autologous cancer vaccines takes longer, it’s more effective since it focuses on each patient’s tumor microenvironment.
Explaining Mesothelioma Recurrence
Recurrence is the medical term for the return of a disease. Cancer recurrence occurs when tumors reappear after a treatment successfully killed or removed all cells on imaging scans. Recurrence is quite common for solid tumor diseases like malignant mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma recurrence happens often, at a troublesome rate, even higher than most other cancers. Recurrence is high for this cancer due to the biological makeup of the disease. Mesothelioma consists of multiple little tumors rather than one massive and ever-growing tumor. Think of goosebumps on your arm.
Removing a lot of these little tumors – some even hidden from plain sight during surgery or on scans – is tougher than removing one massive tumor. The likelihood is treatment will end before 100% of the cancer cells are eradicated.
These microscopic tumors can lay dormant, undetected by imaging tests, and then begin growing weeks or months after chemotherapy or radiation ends. Even surgery – intended to remove all the visible tumors in the lung cavity or abdomen – often leaves a few lingering cancer cells scattered about and waiting to spread like wildfire once more.
A cancer-focused vaccine – tailored to the patient’s tumor microenvironment – is a worthwhile option to investigate for mesothelioma. If the head and neck cancer trial succeeds, we at Mesothelioma Guide hope the effort translates to mesothelioma and other solid tumors.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cancer and the Immune System
Why isnt there a vaccine for cancer?Cancer is a complex and diverse group of diseases, which makes it challenging to develop a single vaccine for all types of cancer. There are several reasons why creating a cancer vaccine is difficult:
- Cancer cells originate from the body's own cells: Unlike pathogens such as viruses or bacteria, cancer cells are not foreign invaders but arise from the body's own cells. This makes it harder for the immune system to recognize and target them.
- Diversity and variability of cancer: Cancer is not a single disease but a collection of over 100 different diseases, each with its unique characteristics. The mutations that drive cancer development can vary significantly between individuals and even within the same tumor, making it difficult to create a 'one-size-fits-all' vaccine.
- Immune system evasion: Cancer cells can evolve mechanisms to evade the immune system, such as suppressing immune responses or disguising themselves as normal cells. This makes it challenging for a vaccine to effectively target cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.
- Tumor microenvironment: The tumor microenvironment can be immunosuppressive, making it difficult for immune cells to infiltrate and attack cancer cells. A vaccine would need to overcome this barrier to be effective.
Despite these challenges, researchers are working on developing cancer vaccines. Some vaccines, such as the HPV vaccine and the hepatitis B vaccine, can help prevent certain cancers by targeting viruses that increase the risk of developing cancer. There are also therapeutic cancer vaccines being developed and tested, such as the FDA-approved sipuleucel-T (Provenge) for certain cases of prostate cancer. These vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune system to target and eliminate cancer cells.
Research in the field of cancer immunotherapy, including vaccines, is ongoing and continues to show promise for the development of more targeted and personalized treatments.
Sources & Author
- Man in the UK becomes first patient to receive customized cancer vaccine. Medical News Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/man-in-the-uk-becomes-first-patient-to-receive-customized-cancer-vaccine. Accessed: 02/24/2022.
- A Clinical Trial Evaluating TG4050 in Head and Neck Cancer. Clinicaltrials.gov. Retrieved from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04183166. Accessed: 02/24/2022.
Sources & Author