Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have developed NeoVax, a vaccine that triggers an immune response by targeting mutated proteins in patients’ skin melanoma tumors, neutralizing them in the long term.
What if it were soon possible to treat melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, with a vaccine tailored to each patient? At least that’s what the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers are trying to do with the development of NeoVax, the results of which were published Jan. 21, 2021, in the journal Nature Medicine.
No recurrence in 6 of 8 patients
The study was conducted on 8 patients with stage 3 or 4 melanoma who had undergone surgery to remove the tumor. These patients, who were at high risk of recurrence, received the NeoVax injection. The goal was to evaluate the long-term efficacy of the vaccine.
The result: four years after the injection, all patients who received Neovax survived and six of them had no recurrence. NeoVax works by targeting up to 20 neoantigens for each patient. Neoantigens are “tumor-specific mutant proteins.” The vaccine contains parts of these proteins called epitopes. These trigger an immune response that only destroys the cancerous cells thereby protecting the healthy cells.
A sustained immune response
To make NeoVax, researchers analyze the DNA sequence in a patient’s tumor to identify key epitopes. When injected, T cells, or T lymphocytes, specifically attack neoantigens to destroy cancer cells.
The study authors found that the immune response not only persisted because the T cells remembered their targets but also recognized other epitopes not included in the vaccine. “Neoantigen-based vaccines, therefore, induce T-cell responses that persist over time and expand the spectrum of tumor-specific cytotoxicity in melanoma patients,” they concluded.