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The Immune System and Personalized Cancer Vaccines

March 19, 2013

In my last post, I mentioned that patients who mount a strong immune response against their cancer have a much better chance of survival. To build on this natural effect, we are developing personalized vaccines that teach the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells anywhere in the body. We are now ready to take this concept forward into a Phase 1 clinical trial at the BC Cancer Agency. Here’s how the trial will work:

1. Our colleagues at the Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) will sequence the patient’s tumour and present researchers in my lab with a list of mutations found in the tumour;

2. My team will design a personalized vaccine containing information about the strongest mutations – those that are most recognizable to the immune system;

3. Our clinical colleagues will administer the vaccine to patients after they have completed standard treatment (i.e., surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation) with the goal of eliminating any residual cancer cells in the body.

Our big, audacious goal is to use personalized vaccines to prevent cancers from recurring in the future. We’re beautifully set up to move forward with this at the BC Cancer Agency: we have a fantastic resource in the GSC, a strong clinical trials program, and a crackerjack immunology team right here in Victoria. Imagine a world where a patient’s natural defense system—the immune system—can protect them from cancer recurrence just as it protects from attack by bacteria and viruses. That’s precisely the sort of treatment our patients urgently desire, and we’re working hard to make it a reality.