Vac­cine’s dual win Can­cer treat­ment sec­ond-string hope

Herald Sun - - NEWS - SUE DUNLEVY

A VAC­CINE that treats one of the most com­mon forms of breast can­cer could one day also be used to pre­vent an­other form of the dis­ease.

The ther­apy be­ing de­vel­oped by an Aus­tralian com­pany stim­u­lates the body’s own im­mune sys­tem to fight the can­cer, and stud­ies have pro­duced im­proved sur­vival rates in mice.

The vac­cine will help the one in four women whose breast can­cer over­ex­presses the HER2 pro­tein as well as HER2 gas­tric can­cer pa­tients.

Over one mil­lion cases of gas­tric can­cer are di­ag­nosed each year, mostly in Asia, and the five-year sur­vival rate is just 30 per cent.

European tri­als have shown the vac­cine to be safe, and it is now be­ing tri­alled in Asia on gas­tric can­cer pa­tients.

While re­searchers hope it will help breast can­cer pa­tients, they can’t trial it on these pa­tients in Aus­tralia yet.

This is be­cause stan­dard use of the ex­pen­sive drug Her­ceptin treat­ment here would con­flict with prov­ing the vac­cine works.

Med­i­cal Univer­sity of Vienna re­searcher Pro­fes­sor Ur­sula Wie­der­mann is the co-in­ven­tor of the HER-vaxx.

If it works it will most likely be used in com­bi­na­tion with chemo­ther­apy, ra­di­a­tion and Her­ceptin to im­prove sur­vival, she said.

The idea is pa­tients with newly di­ag­nosed HER2 pos­i­tive can­cers would get the vac­cine be­fore re­ceiv­ing other treat­ments.

It would stim­u­late the body’s im­mune sys­tem to fight the can­cer, be­fore other stan­dard treat­ments are loaded on top to kill it off.

Re­peat vac­ci­na­tions would most likely be needed dur­ing the pa­tients’ life­time.

“It’s like tetanus, you need a booster vac­cine to keep the mem­ory of the im­mune sys­tem ac­ti­vated,” Pro­fes­sor Wie­der­mann said.

Even­tu­ally the vac­cine could be used to try and pre­vent can­cer, she said.

“If you had a cer­tain gene and your risk of can­cer was high, it would make sense to pro­phy­lac­ti­cally vac­ci­nate (vac­cines that stim­u­late an im­mune re­sponse),” she said.

Tri­als in mice showed the vac­cine pro­longed the on­set of can­cer­ous tu­mours and once a tu­mour was es­tab­lished it slowed tu­mour growth.

Aus­tralian com­pany Imu­gene, based in Carl­ton South, is pro­vid­ing fund­ing to de­velop the vac­cine and run early tri­als.

An­other vac­cine against breast can­cer de­vel­oped by re­searchers at the Bur­nett In­sti­tute in Mel­bourne tar­geted the mucin 1 pro­tein and slashed the rate of breast can­cer re­turn­ing from 60 to just 12 per cent in a 15-year pe­riod.

But work on that vac­cine has stalled be­cause of high costs when only a small num­ber of women got an ex­ten­sion to their life­span.

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