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New Cancer Vaccine Might Help Resistant Mesothelioma

new cancer vaccine

Researchers at Harvard are developing a new cancer vaccine. Preliminary data suggest that it might work just as well as more complex and time-consuming personalized mesothelioma therapies. 

Mesothelioma immunotherapy is a focus for researchers around the world. But this kind of treatment can take a long time to develop. And there is no single therapy that works for every patient. 

The new cancer vaccine would combine chemotherapy and a more generic kind of immunotherapy. This approach has the potential to help mesothelioma patients who do not respond to standard treatments. 

How Does Mesothelioma Immunotherapy Work?

Immunotherapy is one element of the proposed new cancer vaccine. Immunotherapy fights cancers like mesothelioma by manipulating the immune system. 

Some kinds of mesothelioma immunotherapy aim to turn off the natural immune resistance of cancer cells.  Keytruda (pembrolizumab), Yervoy (ipilimumab), and Opdivo (nivolumab) work this way. These drugs have produced mixed results. 

Other immunotherapy drugs attract more immune system cells to the tumor site. This is the kind of immunotherapy in the new cancer vaccine. 

Sometimes, doctors remove immune system cells from a patient’s blood and “program” them to seek out tumor cells. This personalized approach can take a long time and be very expensive. With the Harvard approach, this is not needed. 

Testing the New Cancer Vaccine on Breast Cancer Cells

Most newly-diagnosed mesothelioma patients start with chemotherapy. But it doesn’t work for many of them. Even when it does work, it can affect normal cells and make people sick.

The new cancer vaccine combines immunotherapy and chemotherapy. It puts them together in a way that could make both of them work better for tough cancers like malignant mesothelioma. 

The Harvard team tested the new approach with hard-to-treat triple negative breast cancer. They implanted the treatment at the site of the tumors in mice. The chemotherapy drug doxorubicin killed some of the cancer cells. The dying cells released molecules that attracted immune system cells to the tumor site. 

“The team’s newest version of their cancer vaccine is a novel multifunctional anticancer therapy that offers new hope for the treatment of a wide range of cancers,” says Don Ingber, MD, PhD, a professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School. “It is essentially an entirely new form of combination chemotherapy that can be administered through a single injection and potentially offer greater efficacy with much lower toxicity than conventional treatments used today,” 

The researchers say the new cancer treatment “teaches” the immune system to recognize the cancer. This immune system “memory” helps keep cancer from coming back.

The NIH funded the new research. The approach could lead to better, faster, and more convenient mesothelioma treatments in the future.


Brownell, Lindsay, “A viable vaccine for tough tumors”, November 10, 2020, Wyss Institute at Harvard University website, https://wyss.harvard.edu/news/a-viable-vaccine-for-tough-tumors/

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