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expert reaction to study investigating cancer immunotherapy in mice

Researchers have published their work into immune responses and treatments of cancer in mice in the journal Nature. The team report that the identification of mutations which are individual to each patient and tumour can be used as targets for the body’s own immune system, and suggest that the treatment could be used for personalised therapy.


Prof. Peter Johnson, Professor of Medical Oncology, Cancer Research UK Centre, Southampton General Hospital, said:

“We have recently seen impressive results with cancer therapy in clinical trials using immune checkpoint-blocking antibodies, but up to now this has not been specifically directed against tumour antigens.  This paper investigating cancer immunotherapy in mice is encouraging because it has demonstrated that it is possible to direct a specific immune response against the mutations that arise in tumours during cancer development.  This paper provides the first evidence of a significant anti-tumour effect with such a technique, suggesting that it may be possible to direct the immune system to fight cancer using personalised RNA vaccines. If results are similarly encouraging in human trials, this will help to accelerate the development of combination immunotherapy treatments using the antibody therapies already in the clinic, together with vaccines targeting the mutations present in individual cancers.”


Prof. Kevin Harrington, Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies, Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Honorary Consultant, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“This study in mice provides the first evidence that we may be on the threshold of being able to produce individualised vaccines directed against specific mutations present in a patient’s tumour. Rapid production of purpose-built vaccines appears to be possible and can now be tested in carefully designed clinical trials.

“As yet, this approach must be seen as experimental but it potentially represents a new way of harnessing the power of the immune system against cancer.”


‘Mutant MHC class II epitopes drive therapeutic immune responses to cancer’ by Sebastian Kreiter et al. published in Nature on Wednesday 22 April 2015. 


Declared interests

Prof. Peter Johnson: “I have no financial interest in the companies involved in the study or their competitors.  I am however a member of an EU-funded research consortium which includes the authors of this paper, and have a scientific collaboration with them to undertake clinical research including RNA vaccination.  BioNTech, one of the companies in the paper, has been involved in the manufacture of an antibody which I helped to develop and which we will be testing in an upcoming clinical trial.”

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