Breast cancer vaccine now in early clinical trials: What to know

(NEW YORK) — A new vaccine being studied in early clinical trials may hold the potential to help some women with breast cancer, a disease that affects one in every eight women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine, which has not yet been named, targets triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive and deadliest form of breast cancer.

The vaccine’s first clinical trial, the results of which were published last week, found that the vaccine caused no significant side effects and achieved a good immune response in 75% of patients in the trial.

The Phase 1 trial was composed of 16 women who received three vaccinations administered once every two weeks, according to Anixa Biosciences, Inc., the California-based company that is developing the vaccine.

The trial was conducted at the Cleveland Clinic and was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, according to Anixa.

“This vaccine is designed to direct the immune system to destroy TNBC cancer cells through a mechanism that has never previously been utilized for cancer vaccine development,” Dr. Amit Kumar, chairman and CEO of Anixa Biosciences, said in a statement announcing the trial’s results. “We look forward to reviewing additional data as the trial continues to completion, and we are in the planning stages of the Phase 2/3 studies of this vaccine.”

The vaccine is currently being designed to stop the recurrence of cancer in patients who have already been treated for triple-negative breast cancer, according to Kumar. He said the next phase of research will focus on utilizing the vaccine to prevent the onset of triple-negative breast cancer.

ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who was not involved in the research, said that while the vaccine is a promising development in the field of breast cancer research, it will be years before it is available to the general public.

“This could, and I want to emphasize could, start to be available in about five years or so,” Ashton said of the breast cancer vaccine.

Ashton noted that vaccines already exist for several different types of cancers, including cervical, liver, and metastatic prostate cancer.

Those vaccines, and the new potential new vaccine for breast cancer, all focus on immunotherapy, Ashton explained. When a person develops cancer, the immune system doesn’t attack the tumor on its own because the tumor is formed from the person’s own cells, according to Ashton.

“Using the concept of immunotherapy now, there are clinical trials in progress that take a snippet from a person’s actual tumor and then kind of fold it into, in a lot of cases, MRNA vaccine technology,” Ashton said. “So, it lets that loose so that the person’s immune system can actually fight its own cancer.”

The breast cancer vaccine currently being researched targets a lactation protein, known as α-lactalbumin, that is present in the majority of triple-negative breast cancer patients, according to Anixa.

When breast cancer develops, the vaccine instructs the immune system to fight off the tumor and keep it from growing.

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