Vaccine May Keep Melanoma in Remission 4 Years

Five of the eight patients saw their melanoma recur. In two cases, Ott said, the recurrences occurred early and the patients were given drugs called checkpoint inhibitors.

Checkpoint inhibitors, like the cancer vaccine, come under “immunotherapy” – treatments that use the immune system to help destroy tumor cells.

The drugs work by removing the “brakes” on the ability of T cells to respond to tumor cells. And they’re already an integral part of caring for melanoma patients like the ones in this study.

When the two patients in the study with early recurrences started taking checkpoint inhibitors, they responded quickly, showing complete resolution of their tumors. According to Ott, this suggests that the vaccine could have worked in concert with the checkpoint inhibitors, generating a T-cell response that the drugs then released.

The only way to know if the vaccine improves the outlook for patients, however, is through a clinical trial, said Dr Ahmad Tarhini, a melanoma specialist and researcher who was not involved in the study.

That, he explained, would mean randomly assigning melanoma patients either the vaccine added to standard treatment with checkpoint inhibitors or standard treatment alone.

Based on these patients, the vaccine alone might not be enough to prevent melanoma recurrence, said Tarhini, a senior member of the departments of skin oncology and immunology at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.

That said, Tarhini called the current findings a significant advance in the creation of personalized cancer vaccines.

“As a proof of principle, it’s a success,” Tarhini said. “The vaccine can induce a long-lasting immune system response which is well tolerated.”

In theory, according to Ott, personalized vaccines could be used for a range of cancers. NeoVax is being investigated as an additional treatment for other cancers, including advanced ovarian and kidney cancers.

If the approach ultimately proves to prevent cancer recurrences, Ott noted, there will be problems in the real world – namely, the time and money required to create personalized vaccines.

Dana-Farber, the main NeoVax research site, claims to have “a proprietary and financial interest in the personalized neoantigen vaccine.”

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Jothi Venkat

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