Breast cancer vaccine shows promise in small clinical trial

December 01, 2014

A breast cancer vaccine developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is safe in patients with metastatic breast cancer, results of an early clinical trial indicate. Preliminary evidence also suggests that the vaccine primed the patients' immune systems to attack tumor cells and helped slow the cancer's progression.

The study appears Dec. 1 in Clinical Cancer Research.

The new vaccine causes the body's immune system to home in on a protein called mammaglobin-A, found almost exclusively in breast tissue. The protein's role in healthy tissue is unclear, but breast tumors express it at abnormally high levels, past research has shown.

"Being able to target mammaglobin is exciting because it is expressed broadly in up to 80 percent of breast cancers, but not at meaningful levels in other tissues," said breast cancer surgeon and senior author William E. Gillanders, MD, professor of surgery. "In theory, this means we could treat a large number of breast cancer patients with potentially fewer side effects.

"It's also exciting to see this work progress from identifying the importance of mammaglobin-A, to designing a therapeutic agent, manufacturing it and giving it to patients, all by investigators at Washington University," he added.

The vaccine primes a type of white blood cell, part of the body's adaptive immune system, to seek out and destroy cells with the mammaglobin-A protein. In the smaller proportion of breast cancer patients whose tumors do not produce mammaglobin-A, this vaccine would not be effective.

In the new study, 14 patients with metastatic breast cancer that expressed mammaglobin-A were vaccinated. The Phase 1 trial was designed mainly to assess the vaccine's safety. According to the authors, patients experienced few side effects, reporting eight events classified as mild or moderate, including rash, tenderness at the vaccination site and mild flu-like symptoms. No severe or life-threatening side effects occurred.

Although the trial was designed to test vaccine safety, preliminary evidence indicated the vaccine slowed the cancer's progression, even in patients who tend to have less potent immune systems because of their advanced disease and exposure to chemotherapy.

"Despite the weakened immune systems in these patients, we did observe a biologic response to the vaccine while analyzing immune cells in their blood samples," said Gillanders, who treats patients at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University. "That's very encouraging. We also saw preliminary evidence of improved outcome, with modestly longer progression-free survival."

Of the 14 patients who received the vaccine, about half showed no progression of their cancer one year after receiving the vaccine. In a similar control group of 12 patients who were not vaccinated, about one-fifth showed no cancer progression at the one-year follow-up. Despite the small sample size, this difference is statistically significant.

Based on results of this study, Gillanders and his colleagues are planning a larger clinical trial to test the vaccine in newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, who, in theory, should have more robust immune systems than patients who already have undergone extensive cancer therapy.

"If we give the vaccine to patients at the beginning of treatment, the immune systems should not be compromised like in patients with metastatic disease," Gillanders said. "We also will be able to do more informative immune monitoring than we did in this preliminary trial. Now that we have good evidence that the vaccine is safe, we think testing it in newly diagnosed patients will give us a better idea of the effectiveness of the therapy."
-end-
This work was supported by the Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) of the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (DOD/CDMRP), grant number W81XWH-61-0677; Gateway for Cancer Research, P-06-016; The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital; the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), T32 CA009621; the NCI Cancer Center Support Grant, P30 CA91842; and George and Diana Holway.

Tiriveedhi V, Tucker N, Herndon J, Li L, Sturmoski M, Ellis M, Ma C, Naughton M, Lockhart AC, Gao F, Fleming T, Goedegebuure P, Mohanakumar T, Gillanders WE. Safety and preliminary evidence of biological efficacy of a mammaglobin-A DNA vaccine in patients with stable metastatic breast cancer. Clinical Cancer Research. Dec. 1, 2014.

Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

URL: https://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/27732.aspx

Washington University School of Medicine

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.