It enters the bloodstream and, like a Trojan horse, carries with it the instructions to make the cancer cells recognizable to the immune system. Through this action, he enhances the response against cancer and also the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs, counteracting the phenomena of resistance to these treatments. These are the potential of the cancer vaccine developed by Italian researchers. Its characteristics were illustrated in Science Translational Medicine by researchers from the Armenise-Harvard laboratory of immunoregulation at the Italian Institute for Genomic Medicine (Iigm) and of the Italian-Swiss biotech Nouscom.
Therapeutic cancer vaccines are a field in which research has been engaged for some time. As with the preventive vaccines used for infectious diseases, their purpose is to instruct the immune system to recognize and combat the danger. In this case it is cancer, which is identified on the basis of proteins peculiar to cancer cells. There are several strategies being studied: one of these, that of messenger RNA on which some vaccines against Covid-19 are based, derives precisely from this line of research. In this case, the vaccine uses a gorilla adenovirus, rendered harmless and charged with carrying different traits of the cancer cells against which to target the immune system. The product was the subject of a clinical study involving 12 patients with a subtype of colon cancer (defined as microsatellite instability) in the metastatic phase. In addition to the vaccine, the patients received an immunotherapy drug belonging to the family of immune checkpoint inhibitors and largely responded to treatment; the effectiveness in some of them lasted for about two years.
The team found that the vaccine exerts its action by increasing certain immune cells that have the function of identifying and killing virus-infected or cancer cells. It is a particular population of CD8 + lymphocytes with characteristics similar to stem cells and which manages to escape the mechanisms of exhaustion that usually go through immune cells chronically exposed to cancer. This allows you to have a reserve capable of fighting the disease. “We have understood the mechanism of action that determines the effectiveness of the vaccine: thanks to this increased knowledge we can transform our experimental analyzes into more precise targeted therapies for each patient”, explains Luigia Pace, director of the Armenise-Harvard immunoregulation laboratory. based at the IRCCS Piedmont Foundation for Candiolo Oncology. “Furthermore, considering that the technique for making these vaccines is decidedly tested and that the data obtained in the first clinical trial are very promising, there is a real possibility of creating new vaccines effective against many other types of cancer”, she concludes. The work was also carried out thanks to the support of the AIRC Foundation for Cancer Research.
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