Shifting the Spotlight to Cancer Vaccines


With many groundbreaking cancer therapies on the horizon, it's also time to focus on up and coming cancer vaccines.

Image of Dr. Debu Tripathy.

Dr. Debu Tripathy of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and CURE Editor-in-Chief discussed the changing landscape as cancer vaccines enter the picture.

In the pursuit of groundbreaking cancer therapies, the spotlight has shifted to a promising frontier: cancer vaccines. In this issue, we explore the revolutionary potential of personalized mRNA-based vaccines as well as off-the-shelf options, offering a glimpse into the evolving landscape of immuno-oncology.

The combination of mRNA technology and immunotherapy, exemplified by mRNA-4157 paired with Keytruda (pembrolizumab), has emerged as a new potential treatment option for melanoma, with results from the landmark KEYNOTE-942 trial underscoring the efficacy of this combination. This is essentially a one-two punch of distinct pathways of the immune system — one mutation-specific and another that generates a broader immunological reaction.

“The main reason why this is exciting is the fact that this is the clearest sign that these vaccines can be likely active, and they can actually prevent a melanoma recurrence from happening,” said Dr. Patrick Ott, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

While researchers are pioneering personalized vaccines, such as mRNA-4157, that target unique mutations present in tumor cells, there have also been strides made in the development of off-the-shelf vaccines, such as ELI-002 2P, which is intended to enable a patient’s immune system to identify and destroy pancreatic and colorectal cancer cells with cancer-driving KRAS G12D and G12R mutations commonly seen in these cancer types.

The timeline for cancer vaccines’ general availability is unknown, with Dr. Jay Berzofsky of the National Cancer Institute telling CURE such treatments won’t be available this year, or probably even next year.

“But, on the other hand, I think if something is really successful, the [Food and Drug Administration] has ways of fast-tracking approval,” Berzofsky said. “So, if there’s a real home run, then it might happen faster than we think, and that would be wonderful.”

We have come a long way in cancer immunology with newer discoveries of the intricacies of how our bodies recognize cancer cells and mount an immune response, along with innovative ways to boost that further. This is a result of sustained research with newer tools that will accelerate this trend. I suspect a growing fraction of the next generation of cancer drugs will be immunological.

Debu Tripathy, M.D.


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