Cancer vaccines exist in two forms: those that aim to prevent cancer and those that treat cancer. Preventative cancer vaccines include those against cancer-causing infections such as Human papillomavirus (HPV). These act in the same way as vaccinations against other infectious diseases, by priming the body’s immune system in advance so that it is better able to fight against HPV infection at a later date, dramatically reducing the chances of developing cervical cancer. By contrast, therapeutic cancer vaccines are designed to be given after cancer development and stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells specifically. However, because cancer is an expansion of the body’s own cells, there is a delicate balance between the removal of cancerous cells and attacking normal cells.
Benoit Van den Eynde’s research group have developed a new strategy for a therapeutic cancer vaccine that will enter a Phase I/IIa clinical trial next year. This is a joint venture between Vaccitech Oncology Limited (VOLT), a strategic collaboration between the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Vaccitech Ltd, and Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development. Ludwig Oxford researchers have identified surface molecules called MAGE-A3 and NY-ESO-1 that are unique to cancer cells, and have designed a cancer vaccine to recognise and mount a CD8+ killer T cell-mediated immune attack against these cells. This therapy will be given to 80 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in conjunction with standard of care checkpoint blockade immunotherapy and chemotherapy, with the aim of boosting treatment efficacy.
Jonathan Skipper, Executive Vice President for Technology Development, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, commented, “Previous clinical trials of experimental cancer vaccines targeting MAGE and NY-ESO antigens have demonstrated that these antigens are highly specific to cancer and capable of eliciting strong immune responses. We believe that Vaccitech’s highly effective T cell induction platform should provide a potent immunotherapeutic that, in combination with checkpoint blockade, is capable of inducing sustained levels of cancer antigen-specific CD8+ T cells and the desired therapeutic effect in patients.”
Vaccitech’s CEO, Bill Enright, said: “We are delighted to enter into a clinical development partnership with two of the world’s most prestigious cancer research institutions. We believe that this partnership is an important validation of our prime boost platform’s utility in oncology as well as infectious disease.”
Dr Nigel Blackburn, Cancer Research UK’s director of drug development, said: “This partnership with VOLT is an important step to help accelerate this promising immunotherapy and could help more people survive lung cancer, which remains very hard to treat. This novel approach using a modified adenovirus to prime the immune system and alert it to the presence of cancer cells could offer a completely new way to treat the disease.”
Benoit Van den Eynde’s research is funded by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.