Scientists at Seattle’s Cancer Vaccine Institute are much closer to bringing Breast Cancer vaccines for standard cancer treatment use. The breakthrough is after 100 years in the making. After thousands of tests and waiting tens of years to see progress in women who took the shots.
Dr. Nora Disis is director of the Cancer Vaccine Insititute at UW Medicine and a University of Washington and Fred Hutch Cancer faculty member. They are working on the vaccine and are on the edge of accomplishment. A breath cancer vaccine doesn’t just mean sole treatment for breast cancer. It could potentially push the research on other cancer vaccines. Dr.Disis stated, “I was the only woman in my oncology fellowship class, so they had me attend the breast cancer clinic.” Now, she is going to have the greatest accomplishment in her career.
Bank in November 2022, Disis and her team revealed the phase 1 trial results of the DNA vaccine. This vaccine targets a protein known as human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 or HER2. Around 30 percent of breast cancers have these growth factors. According to the data, the women who received the shots were sixty-six women who had advanced-stage metastatic breast cancer. These women were monitored for over ten years. By the time trial ended, around 80 percent of them were still alive, showing a success rate. Especially because only 50% of women with breast cancer survive within five years of similar stages. Furthermore, according to Dr.Disis, if the results of the phase 2 trial prove to be equally successful, they will set an example for vaccines being used as part of standard cancer treatment.
Not just a regular vaccine
A vaccine sounds like a typical vaccine used to prevent smallpox, polio, or measles. The HER2 vaccine reaches the body’s immune system to identify the breast cancer cells and destroy them, preventing them from emerging again. However, it doesn’t prevent a tumor itself from appearing when it isn’t present. Regardless, this is notable progress, considering traditional treatments for breast cancer include removing the tumor, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy before surgery, called neoadjuvant therapy. Comparing all the complications and the lesser survival rate in larger cancers that move quickly, a vaccine that can target the cancer cells is much more effective.
The use of a vaccine comes under the umbrella of immunotherapy, which develops the immune system to fight against disease, especially cancer. The Seattle Cancer Institute is known for it. Dr. Disis explained that her career started this way because of the place. She said, “if you were interested in cancer and the immune system, this was really the place to be.” The advancements in immunotherapy are notable as they change the landscape of treating cancer to a large extent. Dr. Shaveta Vinayak, CVI’s director of clinical trials and also a UW and Fred Hutch faculty member, pointed out about prevention of cancer cells as well. Such methods of preventing from evading the body’s natural defenses are already approved for use for various cancer types.
Cancer is treated depending on the stage of the tumor, bringing “personalized medicine” into the picture. For early-stage breast cancers, typically, doctors suggest the removal of the tumor. It includes removing a healthy tissue around the tumor called the margin. For larger cancers, other options are preferred, including immunotherapy. Before the treatment itself, there are various drug treatments involved.
While the traditional treatment may give good results, there is a further treatment to work on preventing that cancer from getting back. The risk of recurrence cannot be detected with accuracy, as they remain undetectable with current tests. This treatment, given after surgery for early-stage breast cancer, is known as “adjuvant therapy.”
As we can see, there are a lot of processes behind typical breast cancer treatment. Having a vaccine that prevents breast cancer from coming back and that is much more effective is the biggest accomplishment for researchers in cancer treatment. Mayo’s Breast Cancer Vaccine is another research by Mayo Clinic researchers working on a breast cancer vaccine. According to their announcement in 2019, their vaccine could be available in eight years. However, their trial 1 phase is yet to be finished. They further add that the Mayo HER2 vaccine will not only prevent the reoccurrence but also prevent the development of breast and ovarian cancers. Which is far away from what the Seattle scientists say. Potentially, as the research progress, the limitations will be out.
Regardless of the progress with other treatments, the Vaccine developments from Seattle Vaccine Institute are proving to be much stronger as trial phase 1 is completed. Dr. Vinayak, who’s working with Dr. Disis, said, “We’re at a tipping point. It’s taken some time to put the pieces together, but we’ve learned so much about immunotherapy and viral diseases that now people are moving from the laboratory into the clinic in a very rapid way.”
“When you’re in the trenches, you don’t necessarily think about the impact every day, but it’s my life’s work. To see a vaccine get approved to become part of the standard of care for the treatment of cancer, I think that would just be mind-blowing.” – Dr. Nora Disis