Personalized melanoma vaccines can be used to marshal a powerful immune response against unique mutations in patients’ tumors, according to early data in a first-in-people clinical trial at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WUSL School of Medicine). The tailor-made vaccines, given to three patients with advanced melanoma, appeared to increase the number and diversity of cancer-fighting T cells responding to the tumors. The finding is a boost to cancer immunotherapy, a treatment strategy that unleashes the immune system to seek out and destroy cancer. The research was reported first online on April 2 in Science Express, and is also part of the April 3, 2015 special issue of Science magazine devoted to “Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy.” The WUSL-led article is titled “A Dendritic Cell Vaccine Increases the Breadth and Diversity of Melanoma Neoantigen-Specific T Cells.” This article is accompanied by a Science editorial entitled “Neoantigens in Cancer Immunotherapy.” In a new approach, the cancer vaccines were developed by first sequencing the genomes of patients’ tumors and samples of the patients’ healthy tissues to identify mutated proteins called neoantigens unique to the tumor cells. Then, using computer algorithms and laboratory tests, the researchers were able to predict and test which of those neoantigens would be most likely to provoke a potent immune response and would be useful to include in a vaccine. The vaccines were given to melanoma patients who had had surgery to remove their tumors but whose cancer cells had spread to the lymph nodes, an indicator the deadly skin cancer is likely to recur. These clinical findings set the stage for a phase I vaccine trial, approved by the Food and Drug Administration as part of an investigational new drug application.
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