by Scott Stearns
An Adenoviral Vaccine that produced a remarkable doubling of survival rates with reduced toxicity for patients with colon or rectum cancer in recent phase II clinical trials and is now FDA approved for breast cancer clinical trials.
Colon and rectum cancer is a killer. According to the American Cancer Society, the United States will see approximately 95,270 new cases of colorectal cancer with 49,000 deaths this year, making it the third most common cancer in the country among both men and women. Overall, one in 20 (5%) of Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer during their lifetime with the incidence rate increasing with age - 90% of new cases and 93% of deaths occurring after the age of 50. Simply put, colorectal cancer is serious disease with a 5-year survival rate of only 65%.
Adenoviral Vaccine to treat Colorectal Cancer:
Cancer is caused by abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy healthy tissue. Our body’s immune system is very efficient at recognizing and fighting infected or damaged cells, but cancer has the ability to evade our immune system by blocking the function of specific genes. This allows cancer cells to hide from our immune system and grow and mutate until they are treated with external measures like surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. An alternative method to treat cancer is immunotherapy. The American Cancer Society defines “immunotherapy” as treatment that uses one’s own immune system to help fight cancer”. Further, the purpose of an immunotherapy vaccine is to strengthen our body’s immune system so it has the ability to recognize and fight the abnormal cancer cells with fewer side effects.
The Adenoviral Vaccine to treat colorectal cancer was developed as part of the Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 initiative – focusing on accelerating the potential of combination immunotherapy as the next generation standard of care in cancer patients - is built on the Adenovirus, which typically causes respiratory illnesses in humans such as bronchitis or the common cold. This virus is genetically altered then paired with the specific tumor antigen derived from the patient through the process known as GPS Cancer or a more common tumor associated antigen. The GPS Cancer test will uncover the tumor specific mutations and protein sequences that are then analyzed to identify and decode the tumor-associated antigens in individual patients. This allows for the manufacture of a patient-specific Adenoviral Vaccine, which can be customized to an individual tumor. The vaccine is then introduced by an injection to produce an immunity within the patient against the tumor.
Once the Adenoviral Vaccine to treat colorectal cancer is introduced, the dendritic cells (immune educators cells) within the patient’s immune system will recognize the Adenoviral Vaccine as an abnormal invasive agent or antigen and will activate the killer T-Cells to attack and destroy the invading cancer cells. By conditioning the immune system to recognize the cancer as invasive cells a lifelong immunity may be achieved using the vaccine. According to Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, CEO of NantWorks and founder of Cancer Breakthroughs 2020, the vaccine was used to treat more than 30 patients with metastatic colorectal cancer who failed all standard forms of therapy and had an expected survival rate of less than 4.5 months. After receiving the Adenoviral Vaccine, the median survival rate for this group more than doubled to 11 months.
A major benefit of immunotherapy is the reduction of toxicity and education of a patient’s immune system, which comes from the elimination of chemotherapy as a form of cancer treatment. While chemotherapy is very effective at killing fast growing cancer cells and remains a critical component of many cancer treatment protocols, it is a powerful drug that also kills non-cancer cells and has a toxic effect on a patient’s gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, and vital organs including the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. According to the American Cancer Society, high dose chemotherapy can also cause nausea and vomiting, hair loss, problems with the growth and division of red and white blood cells (immune cells), and may cause permanent developmental problems in children. Any reduction in the use of high dose chemotherapy that does not degrade the effectiveness of a cancer treatment will improve patient outcomes. “Cancer care is undergoing a paradigm shift,” said Dr. Soon-Shiong. He added, “Treatment of cancer is moving from highly toxic, high dose chemotherapy to considerably less toxic immunotherapy.”