The most important projects in cancer research are those that might produce therapies effective against many different types of cancer. There are too many varieties of cancer and individual tumors can evolve too rapidly for the research community to achieve its goals by working on highly specific therapies. To defeat cancer within the next few decades, the aim must be to produce broadly effective therapies, targeting common mechanisms and vulnerabilities shared by many or all cancers. There projects cost the same as more narrowly applicable approaches, but are much more cost-effective for the results they might produce. The research noted here is among a number of lines of work that, collectively, are a step in the right direction, even if there is a way to go yet to reach proof of effectiveness in humans and widespread clinical availability:
Researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind nanoparticle vaccine immunotherapy that targets several different cancer types. The nanovaccine consists of tumor antigens – tumor proteins that can be recognized by the immune system – inside a synthetic polymer nanoparticle. Nanoparticle vaccines deliver minuscule particulates that stimulate the immune system to mount an immune response. The goal is to help people’s own bodies fight cancer. “What is unique about our design is the simplicity of the single-polymer composition that can precisely deliver tumor antigens to immune cells while stimulating innate immunity. These actions result in safe and robust production of tumor-specific T cells that kill cancer cells.”
Typical vaccines require immune cells to pick up tumor antigens in a “depot system” and then travel to the lymphoid organs for T cell activation. Instead, nanoparticle vaccines can travel directly to the body’s lymph nodes to activate tumor-specific immune responses. “For nanoparticle vaccines to work, they must deliver antigens to proper cellular compartments within specialized immune cells called antigen-presenting cells and stimulate innate immunity. Our nanovaccine did all of those things.” In this case, the experimental nanovaccine works by activating an adaptor protein called STING, which in turn stimulates the body’s immune defense system to ward off cancer. The scientists examined a variety of tumor models in mice: melanoma, colorectal cancer, and HPV-related cancers of the cervix, head, neck, and anogenital regions. In most cases, the nanovaccine slowed tumor growth and extended the animals’ lives. The investigative team is now working with physicians to explore clinical testing of the STING-activating nanovaccines for a variety of cancer indications.