New Vaccine Harnesses Power Of the Lymph Nodes


Recurrence of pancreatic cancer after surgery to remove the tumor is every patient’s fear, and rightly so.

Even with chemotherapy after surgery, patients have a significant chance of the cancer coming back. This is because microscopic disease may lurk in the body, and it cannot be detected on scans. Undetected microscopic disease is the reason pancreatic cancer remains one of the most lethal of all malignancies.

Although combination chemotherapy regimens and a drug class known as KRAS inhibitors are showing some promise for patients, immunotherapies, which have revolutionized treatment for some other cancers, are lagging behind in pancreatic cancer. But science is making progress.

Researchers are now creating classes of vaccines that may be able to train the immune system to target pancreatic cancer. A case in point: Scientists are testing a peptide-based vaccine targeting KRAS G12D and KRAS G12R, two common pancreatic cancer mutations that drive tumor growth. The vaccine is dubbed ELI-002 2P and it’s been tested in patients with pancreatic or colorectal cancer in a phase I clinical trial called AMPLIFY-201.

How the Vaccine Works

Cancers with RAS mutations account for 25 percent of human solid tumors. Between 90 and 95 percent of pancreatic cancer patients have KRAS mutations. In the phase I AMPLIFY-201 study, ELI-002 2P targeted two of the KRAS mutations, G12R and G12D, the most commonly occurring variant in pancreatic, colorectal, non-small cell lung, ovarian, biliary, and gallbladder cancers.

The technology basically allows the ELI-002 2P vaccine to train the immune system’s T cells to recognize the G12R and G12D KRAS mutations. Once they are recognized, the T cells, along with helper T cells, zeroes in and targets the mutations for elimination.

The fact the vaccine gets to the lymph nodes by latching on to the protein albumin, which is found in the bloodstream, makes this approach unique and potentially very powerful, says investigator Shubham Pant, M.D., M.B.B.S, Professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology and Investigational Cancer Therapeutics in the Division of Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston). Lymph nodes are one of the key secondary lymphoid tissues where immune cells congregate and where adaptive immune responses are initiated.

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