New vaccines, targeting the most deadly forms of cancer in the United States, are undergoing trials across the country and being heralded as promising breakthroughs in the growing field of immunotherapy — immune-based treatments that many in the medical research community believe is one of the most promising ways to treat, cure and prevent cancer.
In the last few years, the number of clinical trials in this field has exploded, along with the flurry of money from Big Pharma and investors, stirring optimism in the fight against cancer. Today the cancer therapeutics space is worth more than $100 billion globally. Over the next decade it is predicted that immunotherapies will be the backbone of cancer treatments in 60 percent of cancer types.
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease. In 2018 there will be an estimated 1,735,350 new cancer cases diagnosed and 609,640 cancer deaths in the United States. This translates to about 1,670 deaths per day.
Yet while the drugs are dramatically improving the odds of survival for some patients, much of the basic science is still poorly understood, and trials have had wildly varying degrees of success.
Now a new clinical trial is under way, by New York's Mount Sinai, to test a vaccine to combat recurrence in some of the most deadly forms of cancer, including lung, breast, gynecological and bladder cancers.
And the team at Mount Sinai believes that personalization is the key.
Led by Nina Bhardwaj, M.D., director of immunotherapy, the Personalized Genomic Vaccine trial uses the genetic sequence of a patient's tumor to create a customized vaccine. The vaccine in turn will attack targets that arise from genetic mutations in the patient's tumor.
To participate in the study, which concludes in July 2020, patients must be 18 years or older and have a histological- or cytological-proven diagnosis of a malignancy in the lung, breast, head and neck, genitourinary organs or ovaries or multiple myeloma. The risk of disease recurrence in a five-year time period also must be greater than or equal to 30 percent.
The first step in the process is to surgically remove the patient's tumor and ensure that the patient is cancer free by confirming that there is no sign of cancer on blood tests and imaging studies. Researchers then sequence the genetic materials (DNA and RNA) of each patient's tumor and identify mutations by comparing the cancerous data to normal blood. The researchers then create 10 doses of the personalized vaccine, which is injected in the patient across six months.