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Personalised vaccines hold cancer at bay in early trials

The new treatments contain between 10 and 20 different mutated proteins, or 'neoantigens'

Ben Hirschler | NYT  |  London 

personalised cancer vaccines, cancer
New drugs like Opdivo are improving the odds of survival. (Photo: iSTOCK)

A novel class of personalised vaccines, tailored to the tumours of individual patients, kept disease in check in two early-stage clinical trials, pointing to a new way to help the immune system fight back.

Although so-called immuno therapy drugs from the likes of Merck and Co, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche are starting to revolutionise care, they still only work for a limited number of patients. By adding a personalised vaccine, scientists believe it should be possible to improve substantially the effectiveness of such immune-boosting medicines.

Twelve skin patients, out of a total of 19 across both the trials, avoided relapses for two years after receiving different developed by German and US teams, researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The small Phase I trials now need to be followed by larger studies, but the impressive early results suggest the new shots work far better than first-generation that typically targeted a single characteristic.

The new treatments contain between 10 and 20 different mutated proteins, or “neoantigens,” that are specific to an individual’s tumour. These proteins are not found on healthy cells and they look foreign to the immune system, prompting specialist T-cells to step up their attack on cells.

One vaccine was developed at the US-based Dana-Farber Institute and Broad Institute and the other by privately owned German biotech firm BioNTech, which uses so-called messenger to carry the code for making its therapeutic proteins.

Roche, the world’s largest drugmaker, is already betting on BioNTech’s technology after signing a $310 million deal last September allowing it to test the German vaccine with its immuno-therapy drug Tecentriq. BioNTech’s co-founder and CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters that combination trials using Roche’s drug were due to start later this year against a number of different cancers.

Rival biotech firm Neon Therapeutics, which was formed to exploit the US research, initiated tests of its personalised neoantigen vaccine in combination with Bristol-Myer’s Opdivo drug last year.

New drugs like Opdivo and Tecentriq that enlist the body’s immune system are improving the odds of survival, but their typical price tag of more than $150,000 a year is controversial.

© 2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Sat, July 08 2017. 21:42 IST