September 23, 2021
For over a year, we have all been immersed in vaccines because of the pandemic. In the case of COVID-19, the vaccine triggers an immune response against the virus which helps protect us and can stop the progression of the virus after reaching what is called herd immunity (i.e. sufficiently people immunized to stop the spread of the virus and its mutations or changes).
Since the English surgeon Edward Jenner discovered vaccination in 1796 and Louis Pasteur invented vaccines in 1880, vaccines have been one of the most successful advances in medicine with the eradication of many infectious diseases around the world. .
The benefit of initiating the immune response, especially T cells, is that it generates long-lasting immune memory which can prevent infections but can also help fight cancer. Immunotherapy, especially T cell therapy (such as CAR T cells) or checkpoint blocking (which release the dormant immune system), is now transforming cancer care.
Cancer vaccine development has experienced a resurgence over the past decade, thanks to a better understanding of the immune response, the development of better platforms and technologies to deliver these vaccines. “The goal of therapeutic cancer vaccines is to prevent cancer, induce tumor regression, eradicate minimal residual disease after initial treatment, and establish lasting anti-tumor memory,” says André Goy, MD, president and administrator of the John Theurer Cancer Center To Hackensack University Medical Center.
Cancer vaccines fall into two categories:
Prophylactic or preventive vaccines
These vaccines work by killing viruses that can lead to cancer.
“There is a vaccine against the human papillomavirus [HPV], also known as HPV, which is transmitted through sexual contact and is known to cause cancers of the cervix, anus, throat, vagina, vulva and penis, ”explains Heather Appelbaum, MD, pediatric and adolescent gynecologist.
In addition, there is also a vaccine to fight against hepatitis B, which in some cases can lead to liver cancer.
Therapeutic or treatment vaccines
Currently, three forms of cancer vaccines have been approved by the FDA:
- In advanced refractory prostate cancer, a vaccine called Sipuleucel-T (where the patient’s own cells have been stimulated against a prostate cancer protein found in> 95% of prostate cancer cells and then injected back into the patient) can be used as a treatment.
- In advanced melanoma (skin cancer) a vaccine called Talimogene laherparepvec (a modified attenuated virus is injected into skin lesions where it infects tumor cells and induces an immune response) may be used as treatment.
- In early-stage bladder cancer, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) administered intravesically can induce lasting protection and prevent the progression or recurrence of bladder cancer.
Improvements in vaccine design and delivery models, including mRNA vaccines (which allow expression of many tumor antigens in a single ‘shot’), has led to many ongoing trials that will likely provide new options for cancer patients in the near future.
“The power of the immune system cannot be underestimated, and restoring or increasing our immune response will be at the heart of all cancer therapy,” says Dr. Goy. “That being said, the best way to improve cancer outcomes today is with regular screenings, because early detection of cancer always results in better outcomes! “
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