Preventing and treating cancer have always been a goal that scientists and researchers want to achieve. The good news is we are getting somewhere.
Recently, following Elicio Therapetics presenting their new cancer vaccine targeting KRAS-driven cancers, a group of researchers published ground-breaking possible therapies for cancers.
Although these two kinds of vaccines are still in research process or preparing for clinical trials, there are evidences and animal experiences suggesting their effectiveness and potentials for further studies.
Here, I'm going to introduce you the scientific rules behind, and potential further uses of the two vaccines.
AMP KRAS vaccine
To understand how AMP KRAS vaccine works, you need to first understand some concepts.
KRAS (pronounced as K-ras) is a gene that acts as an on/off switch in cell signaling. When it functions normally, it controls cell proliferation. When it is mutated, negative signaling is disrupted. Thus, cells can continuously proliferate, and often develop into cancer.
Scientists have known the function of KRAS, but since it’s too difficult to be targeted on, KRAS was formerly considered “undruggable.”
However, Elicio Therapeutics, a next generation immune-oncology company, has invented a vaccine targeting the seven KRAS mutations that drive 99% of all KRAS-driven cancers, which are estimated to be 25% of all human solid tumors.
The vaccine targets the lymph-node, and is transported directly there after entering human bodies. The “AMP KRAS vaccine” ELI-002 will enter initial patient studies in pancreatic cancer patients in Q1-2020.
Elicio uses Amphiphile platform to precisely target and deliver the immunogens and cell-therapy activators directly to the lymphatic system, the canter of the immune response.
With the help of the Amphiphile technology and a powerful adjuvant, scientists can target precisely on certain peptides on the KRAS, thus the immune response can be simultaneously generated to the seven mutations commonly present in KRAS-driven cancers. In this way, the immune system can produce highly functional mKRAS-specific T cells capable of killing mKRAS-presenting cells in vivo.
AMP KRAS vaccine ELI-002 has completed preclinical validation, IND-enabling GLP toxicology studies, GMP manufacturing, and a pre-IND meeting with the FDA and intends to enter initial patient studies in the first half of 2020. These trials will be multi-site, randomized, controlled studies.
Have you ever had measles or the chickenpox? Have you heard that you can only get these diseases once in your life? Do you know why?
There is a kind of immune system in human bodies called adaptive immunity system, which is the protection you receive after being exposed to an antigen. It has a memory, meaning it can defeat the antigen at once, maybe before any symptom’s appearance, if it invades you again.
You may have heard that T cells and B cells are the only two cells that give our immune system long-term memory. Natural killer cells (NK cells), which belongs to the innate immune system and patrols our bodies searching for harmful cells like cancer or viral infections, were thought to be unable to remember.
However, a recent study on mice without T cells and B cells suggests the traditional concept be wrong.
Researchers vaccinated mice without T cells and B cells, and found the mice started to show a memory response, which cannot be explained with traditional concepts. Therefore, researchers concluded that NK cells must have been the culprit, and started to see how exactly they can “remember.”
They finally found a protein called Ly49. When the vaccinated mice without T cells and B cells exposed to melanoma cells, the mice were protected and did not get cancer; while when they repeated the experiment in mice without Ly49 proteins, there was no cancer protection.
Researchers are working to find out if these same functions will translate to humans.
"Our finding that mice without T cells and B cells can be successfully vaccinated against cancer is ground-breaking and will hopefully allow us to translate this into human therapies." Said one of the researchers.
A brief conclusion
One of the reasons why cancer is difficult to be prevented and cured is that cancer cells can cheat immune cells and avoid being attacked by the immune cells. These two studies are trying to help the immune cells recognize and attack cancer cells.
With the two studies and further research on cancer vaccine, we may see great progress in the fight against cancers. One day, maybe not long from now, we might be capable of curing cancers and extending human lives.