Scientists in Germany have identified a new way to treat cancer using a ‘Trojan horse’ method. Initial experimentation in a small number of patients has shown promising results, suggesting that progress is being made in the production of the first successful universal cancer vaccine.
Following on from positive results in mice, scientists injected a viral vector containing pieces of cancer’s genetic code into 3 patients with advanced metastatic melanoma. Cancer RNA was incorporated into tiny nanoparticles of fat so that introduction triggered the formation of specific killer T cells and an immune response against the tumour. Although tumours were not eliminated, experimentation showed immune activation and vaccination in one patient following surgical removal of tumours lead to a cancer free state for seven months.
These results are extremely exciting as not only are the vaccines fast and inexpensive to produce, but they can be used to immunise against almost any tumour antigen. This approach could therefore be regarded as a ‘universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy’ as stated by Professor Ugur Sahin. Although research is yet to show efficacy, it does provide proof of principle that the vaccine could be an effective therapy, particularly in cancers such as melanoma, where complete cure is almost impossible.
Further research to test its efficacy is needed if it is to continue progressing to clinical application and scientists are planning more extensive randomised trials to validate results.