Miraculous breast cancer vaccine passes first human trials that went on for 20 years

It is high time we killed the tumors.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
Breast cancer vaccine.
Breast cancer vaccine.

solidcolours/iStock 

A team of researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSM) has been working on a breast cancer vaccine for over the last 20 years. In their recently published study, they finally revealed the results of the phase one human trials of their breast cancer vaccine.

A WHO report suggests that currently, over seven million women suffer from breast cancer, making it one of the deadliest cancers across the globe. In 2022 alone, 43,550 female and 530 male patients (yes, men can also have breast cancer, it is rare, though) in the US could die because of breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. However, the research work from UWSM hints that soon we might be able to control the disease.

During the phase one trials, the experimental breast cancer vaccine has proved to be safe and highly effective in preventing the growth of human epidermal growth receptor 2 (HER2) cancer tumor cells.

Many previous studies confirm that high levels of HER2 protein in the body are responsible for causing the most complex, aggressive, and rapidly spreading type of breast cancer in women. In fact, excess production of HER2 protein accounts for 30% of all breast cancer cases. Therefore, the new vaccine might turn out to be a groundbreaking discovery in the field of modern medicine.

Decoding the decade-long breast cancer vaccine research

Miraculous breast cancer vaccine passes first human trials that went on for 20 years
Breast cancer cells.

Human breast cells contain the HER2 receptor and the main function of this protein is to govern the growth and multiplication of breast cells. However, in the case of HER2-positive cancer, an excess of HER2 protein is produced by the cells which further leads to uncontrolled cell division and growth. Eventually causing cancerous tumors in the breast region.

Unlike cervical cancer and some other types of breast cancer, HER2-positive breast cancer is not hereditary, so it does not pass from parents to children. However, it’s a very persistent disease because even after treatment, there are good chances it may reoccur. During their study, while looking for the factors that lead to the re-occurrence of HER2 cancer, the researchers observed something very interesting.

They noticed that HER2-positive cancer didn’t reoccur in patients who developed a special cytotoxic immunity (in which the body creates cells that are capable of killing cancer cells). Such patients had higher survival rates than those who lack the cytotoxic immune response. Based on these findings and further research work, the authors developed a DNA vaccine that could trigger cytotoxic immunity in the affected cells.

Between 2001 and 2010, they conducted phase one human trials of their vaccine on 66 female patients who suffered from recurring advanced-stage HER2 cancer. Three separate groups were made during the trials. Each member of the first group was administered only 10 micrograms of the vaccine.

Whereas for the second and third groups, the dosage per head was set at 100 mcg, and 500 mcg, respectively. To support and enhance the vaccine action, the researchers injected it with a soluble glycoprotein called granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor. The participants were then monitored for over a decade to check the effectiveness of the vaccine.

While mentioning different stages of their study, the authors wrote in the paper, “Single-arm phase 1 trial including 66 patients with advanced-stage ERBB2-positive breast cancer treated in an academic medical center between 2001 and 2010 with 10-year postvaccine toxicity assessments. Data analysis was performed over 2 periods: January 2012 to March 2013 and July 2021 to August 2022.”

Here are the results of the breast cancer vaccine trials

Miraculous breast cancer vaccine passes first human trials that went on for 20 years
The pink ribbon symbolizes breast cancer awareness.

Generally, half of the patients that suffer from HER2-positive breast cancer don’t survive for even five years after being diagnosed. Surprisingly, 80% of the participants that received the breast cancer vaccine stayed alive during the 10-year assessment period. Participants who were injected with the 100 mcg dose developed a strong cytotoxic immune response in their bodies.

Moreover, no severe side effects were experienced by any participant. “The results showed that the vaccine was very safe. In fact, the most common side effects that we saw in about half the patients were very similar to what you see with COVID vaccines: redness and swelling at the injection site and maybe some fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms,” said Mary L. Nora Disis, first author and professor of medicine at UWSM.

The researchers are now conducting phase two trials of their vaccine. If successful, it’d be one of the greatest miracles of medical science – fingers crossed!

The study is published in the journal JAMA Oncology.

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