Researchers have developed a “vaccine” based on the same technology as AstraZeneca’s anti-Covid vaccine, which could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapies against cancer. A technology still far from being mature, but which could change many things in the management of these diseases.
Researchers at the prestigious Oxford University have developed a “vaccine”- a decidedly curious choice of terminology – in two doses, built on the technology used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, to treat a large number of types of cancer. Its particularity is that it works in duo with another type of treatment: immunotherapy of cancers. Indeed, these diseases tend to cause tumors, that is to say a set of deficient cells that multiply in an anarchic way. They can then proliferate out of all control by playing on the immune system; rather than attacking the tumor directly, it is interesting to mobilize directly on the actors of immunity so that the organization can defend itself.
Arm the immune system against tumors
The cells that interest us here belong to a specific category of T cells that attack tumors (abbreviated LT-AT). To operate, they hunt down a whole series of markers – the MAGE — most tumor cells have it on their surface, but healthy cells do not. A little like tattoos can signify gang membership, these MAGEs constitute a easily identifiable distinctive sign. It is therefore a question of lifting certain chemical “brakes”, so that the LT-ATs go hunting for MAGEs and deal with the culprit themselves.
On paper, this technique works very well. But in practice, in the case of patients with aggressive cancers, the amount of anti-tumor lymphocytes is regularly very low. Often, soliciting them in this way does not have the desired effects. Oxford scientists therefore looked for a way to bring the LT-ATs down to an acceptable level.
The future of oncology?
They have thus developed a treatment which borrows a bioengineering technique from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to target two of these famous MAGE proteins, without providing more details on the process. On the other hand, they explain that in mice, treatments by immunotherapy (more specifically, anti-PD-1) were much more efficient after this “therapeutic vaccination”, With a significant increase in the number of LT-AT. “The combination of the vaccine and anti-PD-1 immunotherapy resulted in a reduction in tumor size and an increase in the survival rate of mice greater than with anti-PD-1 therapy alone.”, Explains the press release.
“This new platform has the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment”, Affirms bluntly the contingent of the University of Oxford. Armed with these encouraging results, the team is now heading towards the first clinical trials in 80 patients with a significant lung tumor. If these results are conclusive, they can then extend this technique to other types of cancer; theoretically, as long as a tumor has MAGE proteins, it should be possible to tackle it with this technique.
Of course, it is still too early to jump to any hasty conclusions. As always, there is no guarantee that these conclusions will be transposable to humans. But it will nevertheless be interesting to follow the potential fallout of these clinical trials, because if all goes according to plan, this technology could radically change the landscape of oncology. The Oxford press release is available here.