A vaccine that can kill cancer

Can you imagine how long the average life expectancy would be if cancer were ever eradicated the way polio and smallpox have been? It’s amazing to think about what doctors might be able to achieve in our lifetime. Scientists have made significant inroads in the last few decades and are now testing several vaccines that could possibly lead to the complete prevention of cancer.

Cancer is primarily a disease of ageing, with the majority of cancer cases occurring in people over 50. However, the biological processes that underlie this association are not clear. As we get older, modern medicine will help more of us live with cancer rather than die from it. That’s the assumption behind a vaccine to treat cancer, being developed by a pharmaceutical company in Israel, Vaxil BioTherapeutics,  which formulates a drug, ImMucin, that ‘trains’ the immune system to seek and destroy malignant cells that have already invaded the body.

ImMucin vaccine manufacturer, Vaxil BioTherapeutics, is a clinical-stage company (so called because all of its products are in the early stages of development and testing; not yet ready for the market). It develops therapeutic and preventive vaccines for cancer and tuberculosis. ImMusin is synthetically derived from the MUC1 protein, which is associated with more than 90% of solid tumour cancers and a number of non-solid tumours.

According to Yu Beacon, this revolutionary vaccine called ImMucin is being tested in the treatment of a type of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma. Much like the common vaccine, ImMucin helps the body kill off foreign viruses and bacteria, however, unlike traditional vaccines, ImMucin is given to those who are already sick. ImMucin teaches the immune system to use what are called “T-cells” to target and destroy a molecule called MUC1, typically found only in cancer cells. Since the vaccine trains the immune system to kill only cancer cells, it is expected that patients will not experience the negative side effects that come along with traditional cancer treatments. Researchers expect that this new vaccine will help more than those battling multiple myeloma. Over 90% of cancers contain MUC1, making ImMucin a potentially groundbreaking treatment in the deadliest disease of the 21st century.

Probably the most promising form of cancer treatment is in immunotherapy, where scientists are developing several experimental cancer vaccines that could lead to the eradication of cancer this century. There are two major categories that cancer vaccines fit into:

  • Specific cancer vaccine
  • Universal cancer vaccine

As the name suggests, specific cancer vaccines are designed to treat specific types of cancers. In other words, a vaccine could be developed for lung cancer, another vaccine could be used to treat colon cancer, and yet another vaccine could treat skin cancer, and so on. A more appealing cancer vaccine would be one that could fight cancer cells regardless of cancer type. This type of vaccine is called a universal cancer vaccine.

According to EvaluatePharma, “Unlike many other therapeutic vaccines which need to be personalized,  ImMucin is universal as the same vaccine can be given to any patient. Furthermore,  ImMucin has a unique ability to cope with the tendency of the tumor to try and evade the patient’s immune response.”

A vaccine that works like a drug

A traditional vaccine helps the body’s immune system fend off foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses, and is administered to people who have not yet had the ailment. Therapeutic vaccines, like the one Vaxil has developed – ImMucin, are given to sick people, and work more like a drug.

Each type of cancer vaccine works on the same basic idea: The vaccine, which contains tumor cells or antigens, stimulates the patient’s immune system, which produces special cells that kill cancer cells and prevent relapses of the cancer. Unlike vaccines for other disease that prevent the occurrence of the disease, there is not a vaccine in development that can prevent the onset of cancer. Cancer vaccines are used only as a treatment after the cancer has been found in a patient.

How ImMucin works

ImMucin works by stimulating the patient’s immune system to selectively target tumour cells. According to Vaxil, ImMucin does not contain any “non-specific” epitopes (an epitope is a the part of an antigen or foreign molecule that causes the body to produce antibodies), that allow the immune system to target just tumour cells instead of attacking other non-cancerous parts of the body that also contain the MUC1 protein. Vaxil states that the preclinical studies have shown ImMucin to induce a stronger immunity against MUC1 compared with other MUC1-derived vaccines.

Clinical trials

ImMucin is now in advanced clinical trials at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. This cancer vaccine has just entered “Phase III” clinical trials at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center. If the vaccine passes this phase, the drug will go to the appropriate regulatory authorities in countries around the world. After passing regulatory review, the drug would be able to enter the drug market about six years from now.

ImMucin will be tested on a large number of patients (hundreds to thousands of individuals) in the Phase III trials. After it reaches the market, there are two more phases to evaluate the long-term effects on patients and to further integrate it into widespread public treatment.

Vaxil’s CEO, Julian Levy, tells ISRAEL21c that this therapeutic vaccine doesn’t prevent cancer from invading, but activates and enhances the body’s natural immune system to seek and destroy cancer cells already present in the body, such as those lingering after cancer surgery.

Dr. Lior Carmon, founder of the Israeli-based company Vaxil BioTherapeutics which produced the vaccine, said in a press release:

“We have succeeded in identifying a novel way to detect cancer onset and progression. This is an invaluable tool which will significantly enhance our ability to provide effective relief to these patients who are eligible to be treated with ImMucin and is yet another validation of our VaxHit technology.”

While advanced-stage cancer will require treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation to remove larger tumors, with the help of ImMucin, the body will be able to fight off the cancer once brought down to size, according to CEO Julian levy. According to the CEO, “The vaccine presents no side effects, and can be taken indefinitely, like vitamins. ” ImMucin is also said to help in preventing relapse.

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