Breast cancer: the first successful human vaccination

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from: Caroline German


A DNA-based breast cancer vaccine has shown good results in its first human test. The desired immune response against a particular type of breast cancer has been shown to be robust. An effective vaccine would be a breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

Seattle/Bremen – Researchers at University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSM) In Seattle / USA more than 20 years ago to find a vaccine against a specific type of breast cancer. They have now found success with a setup they developed in a phase I clinical study in humans: The vaccination generated a strong immune response against a protein that can be found on the surface of cancer cells, the university announced.

The researchers were optimistic that the vaccine could one day be used to treat different types of breast cancer – provided, of course, that this still needs further testing, how mentioned.

The first phase of a long-term breast cancer vaccination study was positive

The results of the long-term study were positive, but many additional tests are needed before more meaningful results are available, explains study leader Dr. Mary L. Desis, Oncologist UWSM teaches and manages Cancer Vaccine Institute he. In this first phase of clinical testing, on the one hand, the safety of the vaccination was to be verified, and on the other hand, the researchers wanted to know whether the DNA-based vaccine was really capable of eliciting an immune response in humans. .

The breast cancer vaccine is a DNA-based drug

The vaccine used is a DNA-based drug that targets a protein called HER2. HER stands for “The Future of Human Skin”. Protein molecules on the cell surface transmit growth signals into the cell interior. Cancer cells often have a much higher number of receptor particles on the surface than other cells. The growth signal causes cells to divide more frequently than normal cells. This creates a tumor that grows uncontrollably.

The vaccine produced an immune response against HER2-positive breast cancer

The HER2 receptor plays an important role in some types of breast cancer. About 20 percent of cases are called HER2-positive breast cancers. This means that many of these receptors have been detected in cancer cells. HER2-positive breast cancer is a non-hereditary type of cancer. The difficulties in treatment are that, on the one hand, it grows very quickly and strongly and often recurs, that is, it recurs.

To date, these tumors have been treated with targeted antibody therapy. On the one hand, this type of treatment is more targeted, and on the other hand, there are much fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy, which is also used to fight many other types of cancer such as lung cancer and colon cancer. or testicular cancer.

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. (File photo) © Michael Hanschke / dpa

The strongest immune response to breast cancer vaccination was seen at the median vaccine dose

The vaccine Desis and her colleagues have developed starts from a similar point. Because the desired immune response, which is best as a result of antibody therapy, must also be caused by your vaccine. To do this, they used a DNA-based drug that contains the genetic information to build antibodies that bind to the HER2-binding site and are thus able to block it. They do not differ in their effect, but in the design of protein-based vaccines that are otherwise used, in which parts of the protein against which antibodies are formed are given.

For the clinical study, 66 women with metastatic breast cancer of the same type were injected with three doses of the vaccine. One group received 10 mcg each, a second group received 100 mcg and a third 500 mcg per dose. The tested subjects were then regularly examined medically over a period of three to 13 years and the progression of their disease was recorded.

“The vaccine is safe. The side effects were mild, similar to the Covid vaccine.”

“The results show that the vaccination is very safe,” says study leader Desis. “The most common side effects we found in about half of the people tested were similar to the Covid vaccination: redness and swelling at the injection site, and sometimes also a slight fever and flu-like symptoms.” According to the researchers, the desired immune response occurred in test subjects who received the average dose was more pronounced.

Even if the study wasn’t originally intended to see if a vaccination could slow or stop the progression of cancer, it was shown that the tested subjects fared significantly better than the patients during the observation period, which ten years later was the average for this type. of breast cancer, which was at a similar stage, according to Desis. Half of these women die within five years despite treatment.

Ten years later, people with breast cancer do better than unvaccinated women

“We’ve known people of our own for ten years, and 80 percent of them are still alive,” explains the oncologist. “If the results of the Phase 2 random test also come back positive, that is a strong signal for us to quickly start the next phase 2 and 3 testing. I have great hope that we are very close to having a vaccine that will effectively help people with breast cancer.” A breakthrough in the treatment of what is by far the most common type of cancer diagnosed in women.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women – an effective vaccine would be a breakthrough

According to data from the Robert Koch Institute, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Only part of it is HER2-positive. However, if the vaccination proves effective in further testing and is approved by the drug authorities, these women could at least be helped. However, this will take some time. However, through targeted preventive measures and an adapted lifestyle, you can also reduce your risk of developing cancer yourself.

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