Cancer therapy: Personalized neoantigen vaccines are a new hope

28/09/2021 20mins
Phani Kumar S


Cancer strikes the human body by disguising as normal tissue as it wreaks havoc to the body. But scientists are now working on discovering subtle but unmistakable characteristics to uncover cancer cells and develop uniquely personalized immunotherapy to help cancer patients. And these unmistakable characteristics called ‘tells’ are pointing out to fragments of proteins found only on the surface of cancer cells, referred to as neoantigens.

What are Neoantigens?

Recent studies have suggested a key role for neoantigens in cancer immunotherapy. As tumor cancer cells divide, they accrue numerous mutations leading to the rise of modified peptide sequences which are unique to cancer cells. These tumor-specific proteins are known as neoantigens and more scientists believe that they could be the key to the development of effective cancer therapies.

Neoantigens Vaccine at Work

Neoantigens are unique to cancer cells. They surface only when cancer develops so the body’s immune response will have a better chance to recognize them in the first place.

Over the recent years, three studies have been documented involving about two dozens of melanoma patients who were given experimental vaccines that contain neoantigens. The beauty of the vaccines is that they have the ability to target only the tumor cells. Each of the patients involved was given unique sets of neoantigens. After the patients received the vaccines, the patients made T cells called immune cells which could target cancer cells.

A New Hope in the Making

The goal of the neoantigens vaccine is to enhance the body’s response to neoantigens once they are detected, and at the same time to teach the immune system to target neoantigens that it was unable to respond to beforehand.

So far, the published studies of neoantigen vaccines involved patients with melanoma. This is largely because the melanoma cells appear to have a larger number of mutations which translates to more formations of neoantigens.

Neoantigen therapy tends to be a very promising cancer treatment. Various studies have been made in hopes that the strategy will reach its full potential to help out cancer patients. Advanced computer algorithms are now increasingly developed to help identify the best cocktails of neoantigens to be included in the vaccine.

But, apparently, there is still a very long way to go to reach the most desirable outcomes. Scientists will have to tackle many other technical details including the following:

  • The right dose and timing of the vaccination

  • What would be the best adjuvant?

Scientists will need to determine the best adjuvant to help strengthen the patient’s immune response after the administration of the vaccines. They’ll need to learn how to effectively combine neoantigen vaccines with other therapies and checkpoint inhibitors as well as how the immediate area around the tumor cells affects the body’s immune system response.

  • How to make the vaccines within several weeks instead of the three months that it took in the recent studies.

Indeed, the neoantigen approach can be a new hope for cancer patients. The idea seems to be very promising on paper. It just needs to be rolled out in the clinic to see how effective it actually is.


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