There’s a new weapon in the war on cancer. Described as a “cancer vaccine”, the new development is actually a form of immunotherapy administered via a vaccine-like injection. The American Society of Clinical Oncology stated that a “cancer vaccine” can refer to a treatment that’s used to prevent cancer from coming back and destroys cancer cells that are still in the body, and it appears that this cancer vaccine can do just that.
The development of the cancer vaccine is an innovation that sprung from an innovation. Immunotherapies have been garnering attention as safer, more effective cancer treatments for the past few years, focusing on stimulating the body’s immune response to cancerous cells. The change from conventional methods such as chemotherapy and radiation is much gentler on the body; rather than laying waste to everything in a localized region, killing good and bad cells both and poisoning the body, scientists have discovered ways to alter and stimulate cells so they defend themselves.
Previous immunotherapies (such as CAR T-cell therapy) required the removal of certain immune cells from the patient’s body. They would then be genetically engineered to fight cancerous cells and recirculated through the bloodstream. The cancer vaccine, however, utilizes the use of two agents that are injected directly into the tumor, reactivating and stimulating T-cells at the site. Since cancer develops when abnormal cells are overlooked by these immunoresponse attackers, their reanimation at the source is revolutionary in eradicating the cancerous cells immediately. Even more amazingly, once the tumor has been destroyed, the newly beefed-up T-cells can travel through the bloodstream, fighting off and eliminating the few cancerous cells that may have been trying to spread to other areas of the body (known as metastasization).
So far, the results have been extremely promising: nearly 97% of tumors in mice were cured, even those that had spread to other regions in the body, and re-occurrence was prevented in many cases. However, cancer is, by its very nature, extremely versatile; one form of therapy will not work for all types of cancer. The cancer tested on the mice in the study was that of lymphoma, colon cancer, and breast cancer. The implications for a breast cancer cure — a disease which affects one out of every eight women — would change the world as we know it.
Vaccines prevent more than 2.5 million deaths each year. When you consider the fact that approximately 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year, the possibilities are unbelievable. One of the world’s leading causes of death could be managed and prevented through a simple injection.