April 13, 2024

Cancer Vaccines: A New Hope against Cancer

Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Advances in understanding the biology of cancer have led to new treatment approaches, including cancer vaccines. Unlike traditional vaccines which prevent infectious diseases, cancer vaccines aim to boost the body’s natural defenses against cancer cells that have already developed. Growing evidence suggests these vaccines may one day join surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in the fight against cancer.

How Cancer Vaccines Work
Cancer vaccines work by either boosting or restoring the immune system’s ability to recognize and attack cancer cells as foreign invaders. Some vaccines contain parts of cancer-specific proteins, called antigens, that are isolated and purified. When these are introduced into the body, they stimulate the immune system to produce T-cells and B-cells that will recognize and attack any cells expressing those antigens. Other vaccines use disabled viruses or bacteria to deliver genetic material encoding specific cancer antigens. This trains the immune system to mount a response against cells carrying that antigen. Still other vaccines stimulate the immune system in broader ways to promote generalized anti-tumor responses.

Types of Cancer Vaccines
There are different types of cancer vaccines targeting various cancer antigens:

– Antigen vaccines contain pieces of cancer proteins (antigens) that provoke an immune reaction against cancer cells carrying those antigens. They include FDA-approved vaccines for cervical cancer (Gardasil) and prostate cancer (Provenge).

– Whole-tumor cell vaccines involve administering whole cancer cells that have been killed or disabled. They contain a wide array of tumor antigens to stimulate broad anti-tumor immunity. Sipuleucel-T for prostate cancer functions in this way.

– Viral vector vaccines use genetically engineered viruses like adenovirus or poxvirus to deliver cancer antigens into the body. Viruses infect immune cells and force them to produce tumor antigens, stimulating an immune response.

– Antigen-adjuvant vaccines pair specific cancer antigens with immune-boosting adjuvants like GM-CSF that enhance the immune response. These include an approved melanoma vaccine (Imlygic) and experimental vaccines for various cancers.

Potential of Cancer Vaccines
Research has revealed cancer vaccines may benefit patients in several ways:

– As an immunotherapy to treat existing cancers by boosting natural defenses against tumor cells. Some approved vaccines have shown ability to extend survival in clinical trials for certain cancers.

– As an adjuvant therapy given after initial treatments like surgery or chemotherapy to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. By priming immune memory, vaccines may stop residual tumor cells from regrowing.

– For prevention in high-risk patients, such as those with pre-cancerous lesions or a family history of specific cancers. Vaccines could stop the development of tumor cells before cancers appear.

– In combination with other immunotherapies that better mobilize the immune system, such as checkpoint inhibitors. This may produce even stronger anti-tumor immune responses.

Challenges in Developing Vaccines
Despite progress, developing effective anti-cancer vaccines still faces major roadblocks:

– Identifying the right tumor antigens to target. Some antigens present on healthy tissues as well, raising safety issues and immunotherapy resistance.

– Obtaining strong, long-lasting anti-tumor immunity. Cancers evolve ways to evade immune surveillance through mechanisms like suppressing T-cells.

– Addressing variability of antigen expression across patients and tumors. Not all cancers express target antigens at high levels needed to generate responses.

– Determining how best to combine vaccines with conventional therapies to gain maximum benefit. Proper sequencing and timing is important.

– Overcoming issues of mass production, standardization, quality control and high costs that complicate clinical development.

Future Prospects
With further research, cancer vaccines hold immense promise to be part of future personalized treatment approaches. Scientists are working on second-generation vaccines aimed at overcoming current hurdles. Combination strategies with checkpoint inhibitors are yielding impressive results in early testing. As antigen identification methods improve through advances in immunology and genetics, more customized neoantigen vaccines may emerge. Ultimately, cancer vaccines may help generate immunological memory against cancer recurrence, even allowing us to envision a vaccine-based cure for some cancers in the future. With the progress being made in cancer research today, defeating cancer through vaccination is an exciting possibility.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research

2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it