TCD scientists discover new vaccine to treat cancer at pre-clinical level

20 Dec 2011

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) say they have developed a new vaccine to treat cancer at the pre-clinical level. The research team led by Kingston Mills, professor of experimental immunology at TCD, says it has discovered a new approach for treating the disease based on manipulating the immune response to malignant tumours.

The discovery has been patented and the TCD scientists are planning to develop the vaccine for clinical use for cancer patients. They believe their findings suggest important uses for PI3K inhibitors in heightening responses to cancer immunotherapy and immunochemotherapy, as published this month in Cancer Research, the journal of The American Association of Cancer Research.

Applying research via TCD campus company TriMod Therapeutics

The research was funded by a Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator award given to Mills. The discoveries have been patent protected and Mills said today he plans to translate them to the clinic via a TCD campus company, TriMod Therapeutics, that he has co-founded with Dr Jeremy Skillington.

Mills himself currently leads the Immune Regulation Research Group in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at TCD. The research was performed by a senior postdoctoral fellow Dr Neil Marshall, at TCD, with the help of two PhD students, Anna-Maria Corcoran and Karen Galvin.

The first cancer vaccine Sipuleucel-T (Provenge) was licensed last year for use in prostate cancer patients unresponsive to hormone treatment.

However, this cell-based vaccine only improves patient survival by an average of 4.1 months, according to Mills, who was speaking today at TCD.

Challenge with tumours

He pointed to how vaccines for infectious diseases are highly effective at generating immune responses that prevent infection with bacteria or viruses.
Mills said the immune system can also protect us against tumours and – in theory – a vaccine approach should be effective against cancer.

“However, in practice this has proven very difficult because unlike infectious diseases, tumours are derived from normal human cells, and not made up of foreign substances or antigens capable of triggering an immune response. The tumours instead produce molecules that suppress the efficacy of the immune system. They generate regulatory cells that inhibit the immune response that could potentially clear the tumours,” said Mills today.

Improving on existing technologies

Prof Mills’ group believe they have developed a “novel vaccine and immunotherapeutic approach” that can overcome these obstacles and has the potential to significantly improve on existing technologies.

The therapy is based on a combination of molecules that manipulate the immune response to curb the regulatory arm while enhancing the protective arm, allowing the induction of specialist white blood cell called killer T cells to target and eliminate the tumours, explained Mills today.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic