The idea of using the patient’s own antibodies to treat HER2-positive cancers is not new, but only now have scientists come close to making it a reality.
It all started in 2008, when Jay Berzofsky, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Vaccine Branch at the NCI’s Center for Cancer Research presented his paper detailing a serum able to eradicated large breast tumors and lung metastases in mice. The concept was simple – harvest blood from the subject, genetically modify dendritic cells to produce parts of the HER2 protein, inject them back and hope they would trigger an immune response against the cancer.
Fast forward to 2018, Dr. Berzofsky reports positive results in his clinical trials at the CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference in New York. Out of the 11 participant members that received the highest doses, six showed clinical benefits. One patient suffering from ovarian cancer displayed a complete response that lasted 89 weeks, one patient with a case of gastroesophageal cancer had a partial response that lasted 16 weeks and the last four (two cases of colon cancer, one prostate cancer, and one with ovarian cancer) had stable disease.
As he describes it, “immunotherapy marshals the exquisite specificity of the immune system to destroy cancer, and some types may have potentially fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy”.
Dendritic cells are an important part of the immune system because they can train T cells to attack cancer even when it has spread beyond the original tumor site.
“We are using a vaccine approach to generate an immune response to HER2, which is found at high levels on and drives the growth of several types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, lung, colorectal, and gastroesophageal cancers”, added Dr. Berzofsky in the press release.
Clinical trials are moving forward and the next objective is to combine two immune-boosting therapies that will hopefully increase effectiveness.