• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Hopes of cancer immunity rise as vaccine expected by 2030

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The growth of research work establishing communication between the immune system and cancer cells has raised hopes of achieving immunity against some cancers responsible for over half of cancer diagnoses and deaths: breast, and ovarian prostate cancers.

Breakthroughs seen with the use of new vaccine technologies such as mRNA, the understanding of immune response required to kill cancer and what is immunogenic in different types of cancers has bolstered researchers’ confidence that vaccines will be ready in the next five to eight years.

Moderna is hoping to offer a personalised cancer vaccine in collaboration with Merck to target different tumor types, which Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical director, said on Monday would be highly effective and save millions of cancer patients.

The vaccine is being processed alongside a new set of life-saving shots targeting heart disease and other conditions, leveraging the advancements in mRNA, technology used to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies by the international biomedical company revealed that shots for diseases like cancer hold a huge advantage in teaching human cells to produce a protein that initiates an immune response against a certain disease, Burton said.

Also, researchers at the University of Washington Cancer Vaccine Institute, for instance, say there is high potential to arrive at a vaccine that can instruct the body to fight against breast cancer in people at a high risk of developing the disease but have not.

They found that the vaccine can stimulate immunity against a protein known as human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a type of protein associated with about 30 percent of breast cancer cases, according to a first-phase trial result published in JAMA Oncology, a medical journal.

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The protein is found on many types of cells, but some aggressive breast cancer cells make as much as a hundred times more HER2 compared to normal cells.

The trial involved 66 women who had advanced stage cancer and were treated.

Eighty percent of women who got the vaccine have survived the 10-year study period, surpassing the 50 percent five-year survival rate expected for their type of cancer, according to the study.

It is expected that by training the body to make more HER2, the vaccine will train the immune system to attack the cancer while leaving normal cells alone.

By training the body’s immune system to identify and destroy breast cancer cells that express the protein HER, the vaccine prevents them from emerging again.

But it doesn’t prevent a tumor from appearing in the first place.

“Right now, we’re at a tipping point for cancer vaccines. We have gone from not knowing whether the immune system has anything to do with cancer to immunotherapy now being approved. Some of these monoclonal antibodies called immune checkpoint inhibitors are actually used to treat cancer. Many people think that teaming vaccines up with these immune checkpoint inhibitors will make those drugs much more effective,” Nora Disis, lead researcher and director of UW’s Cancer Vaccine Institute, said in a recent interview with a local news station.

She hinted that the other approach is to use vaccines to immunise patients who’ve had cancer to prevent resurgence.

Most people suffer poor outcomes because the disease recurs and becomes very difficult to treat, Disis said.

“We want to prevent that but the newest things that we are developing at the cancer vaccine institute are actually vaccines that would prevent cancer and we will start using those first in people who have a high risk to develop certain cancer but don’t yet have the disease,” she added.

Analysts are optimistic that such innovation will be a game-changer for teeming patients in Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, where non-communicable diseases such as cancer are rising. Cancer kills 72,000 people annually, according to available data.

In 2020, the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer estimated that over 302, 076 people were struggling for treatments with less than 10 radiotherapy machines available in the country.

At least 200 machines are required.

Local research in cancer is rare due to paucity of investment in healthcare.

African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Disease, Redeemer’s University Ede has been channelling efforts into research but the focus has been on communicable diseases such as COVID-19 and monkeypox (mpox) recently.

It is currently training 10 African scientists on next generation sequencing and bioinformatics for detection of mpox virus.