A study published in the Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer showed that a new colorectal cancer vaccine could help patients to fight their disease. The drug has passed a phase one trial which sought mostly to evaluate its safety, and is now moving on to a larger trial to further explore its efficacy.
Because colorectal cancer is difficult to catch early and oftentimes comes back even after treatment, this new approach could be a way of preventing the many deaths related to the disease. The idea is that the vaccine will stimulate the patient’s immune system enough so that it becomes aware of the cancerous cells and starts to attack them.
The immune system exists to help the body ward off foreign antibodies, but cancer often has a way of hiding form its attack. Immunotherapy treatments like this vaccine are designed to make the immune system aware of the cancer cells so it can actually destroy them.
The study was based on the discovery that nearly all colorectal cancers express a molecule called GUCY2C. That molecule is found in intestinal epithelial cells as well, but when the vaccine targets it, it theoretically should only send immune cells to tumors rather than including healthy tissue as well.
The phase one trial sought to evaluate the safety of the treatment. Ten patients with either stage I or II colon cancer received a single dose of the vaccine and were watched for six months. No patients had adverse side effects, and several blood tests also revealed that the vaccine stimulated the patients’ immune systems in the way it was intended.
According to Karen Knudsen of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer center, “this pivotal study provides some of the first evidence that it may be possible to safely direct a patient’s own immune system to seek and destroy this cancer type.”
The next step for the vaccine is to enter a larger, phase II trial which will involve more patients and an attention to the treatment’s efficacy. Scientists have already changed the formula based on the original trial to make it even more successful in the next round. If the treatment ends up being success, researchers believe that it could go on to treat gastric, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers as well.