Personalised cancer vaccine may hold leukaemia at bay for longer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A cancer vaccine personalised to individual patients could reduce the chances of a type of blood cancer from returning, a small US study has found. 

Patients with a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML) who were treated with the vaccine had a longer time period without their cancer returning, according to the results from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the US. 

“A major issue facing patients with AML is that even if signs of their cancer disappear after treatment, many will see the disease return" – Professor Robert Hills, Cancer Research UK

Chemotherapy helps some patients with AML enter remission, where their cancer is still present but can’t be detected or isn’t growing. But the disease often returns, or relapses, and is then much more difficult to treat. 

The small US trial tested a vaccine that stimulates the body to react against the cancer cells. It included 17 patients, 12 of whom were alive without their cancer coming back after nearly 5 years, according to the results published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Professor Robert Hills, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist from Cardiff University, said: “A major issue facing patients with AML is that even if signs of their cancer disappear after treatment, many will see the disease return. 

“That’s why the low relapse rates in this study are an encouraging early sign the experimental treatment may be working.” 

Older patients with AML often have a worse prognosis. But more than 7 in 10 patients (71%) remained in remission on average for nearly 5 years in the study, despite the average age of patients being 63. 

Though the study was small, these figures are in contrast to a 5 year survival of around 5% for standard treatment for leukemia in patients of a similar age. 

Tweaking the body’s immune system so that it can recognise and attack a tumour more efficiently is a growing area of cancer research.

By creating a personalised vaccine, the power of the immune system can be targeted against each patient's cancer. This could avoid some of the side effects of chemotherapy, said senior study author Professor David Avigan.

“This treatment should move forward to larger clinical trials that can identify exactly which patients may benefit from this vaccine approach,” added Hills.

References

Rosenblatt, J. et al. (2016). Individualized vaccination of AML patients in remission is associated with induction of antileukemia immunity and prolonged remissions. Sci. Transl. Med. 368: 8. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aag1298