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Breast cancer vaccine coming soon

04 Mar 2014

Australian researchers have developed a vaccine that can prevent breast cancer from returning and which could be on the market within five to 10 years.

The revolutionary vaccine uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer, and may also be useful in treating and preventing pancreatic, ovarian, colon and lung cancer.

Lead researcher from the Burnet Institute Professor Ian McKenzie said it was hoped that eventually every woman would be able to have a vaccine to prevent breast cancer.

The researchers identified a protein called mucin 1 that is different in cancer cells than normal cells. They developed a sugar polymer, mannan, from baker’s yeast that was able to bind with the protein, and attached a cancer antigen to it.

When it is injected into the body it prompts the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.

More than 90 per cent of breast cancers carry the mucin 1 protein targeted by the vaccine, and it also present in between 60 and 90 per cent of other types of cancer.

Researchers injected the vaccine into 16 women who had been treated for early breast cancer, and an additional 15 were given a placebo.

After 15 years, nine of the patients who received the placebo had seen their cancer return, while only two women who received the vaccine had a recurrence.

The researchers also found that the cancer took a longer time to return in the women who had received the vaccine – 118 months after the first surgery for the two vaccinated women, compared with 65 months for those on the placebo.

The treatment, unlike many cancer medications, does not require lengthy infusions.

Professor McKenzie said it is delivered in much the same way as a childhood vaccine, and the only side effects from the original trial were soreness and swelling at the injection site.

A second trial, involving 50 women with metastatic cancer, is being planned. Ascend Pharmaceuticals is looking for funding to run the second trial before proceeding to a full blown clinical trial.

Kirsty Waterford

Published: 04 Mar 2014