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28th April 2023

Repurposing cancer cells: A promising treatment for Glioblastoma

Harvard Medical School researchers have developed a new potential treatment for glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The treatment repurposes active cancer cells to target and destroy other cancer cells, while also stimulating the immune system to identify and eliminate primary tumours.

Clinical trial yields promising results

An eight-year clinical trial was carried out in four countries from August 2007 to November 2015, with data analysis conducted between October 2020 and September 2021. A total of 331 patients diagnosed with glioblastoma were tested, with 232 receiving the vaccine and 99 given a placebo drug.

Glioblastoma vaccine clinical trial yields promising results
The personalized vaccine educates white blood cells to recognize and track the patient’s tumour using its proteins.

Professor Keyoumars Ashkan, a neurosurgeon at King’s College Hospital in London leading the trial, expressed his amazement at the overall results, stating that the vaccine had been proven to extend life, even in patients who were typically thought to have a worse prognosis.

After being diagnosed with the tumour, patients who were administered the vaccine had an average survival rate of approximately one year and six months, whereas those who received the placebo drug had a survival rate of one year and three months on average. Though the difference appears trivial, the outcomes are statistically significant.

Moreover, a remarkable 13% of vaccinated individuals survived for at least five years post-diagnosis, in comparison to only 5.7% of those who did not receive the vaccine, indicating a significant improvement in longevity.

The vaccine is awaiting regulatory authorization before becoming available to the public.

Both treatments offer new hope for patients with glioblastoma, a deadly form of cancer that affects the Central Nervous System and is the most common primary brain tumour in adults. The standard treatment for glioblastoma includes surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, but tumours tend to come back within 6 to 8 months, and patients generally survive only 15 to 17 months.

The CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool

The cells are designed with CRISPR-Cas9, a gene editing tool, and are being tested in mice. The new treatment is being tested in an international clinical trial and is one of several potential cancer vaccines under development, including those from Big Pharma names such as Moderna.

“Using gene engineering, we are repurposing cancer cells to develop a therapeutic that kills tumour cells and stimulates the immune system to destroy primary tumours and prevent cancer,” remarked Khalid Shah, Professor at Harvard Medical School.

The DCVax vaccine was tested in a human clinical trial led by Professor Keyoumars Ashkan with promising results. The vaccine is specifically designed for glioblastoma and has been shown to provide several years of survival for patients, compared to standard treatment.

The vaccine combines proteins from the patient’s tumour with their white blood cells, “educating” the cells to recognize and track the tumour, providing a personalised solution.

According to Superinteressante magazine, the vaccine can also track and treat the tumour directly, making it the first method developed with this strategy. Immunotherapy techniques, such as this vaccine, seem to have a remarkable effect, with DCVax being shown to prolong life and increase the longevity of patients.

With the development of these new treatments, patients may have the opportunity for greater longevity and more personalised treatment options.

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