LA JOLLA, California — Researchers at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology have teamed up to find a new way to fight cancer.
They've created a vaccine that can help teach the immune system how to attack only cancer cells and leave the rest of the body alone.
"Patients will be able to tolerate their therapy much better than they have so far on conventional approaches," says Dr. Stephen Schoenberger from the La Jolla Institute.
Each vaccine is highly personalized to the patient. According to a release from UC San Diego, the vaccines "defines the neoantigens – foreign protein fragments recognized by the immune system – in a patient’s cancer. With neoantigens identified, the team can identify peptides – strings of amino acids – that can be used to create a vaccine to stimulate a protective immune system response."
Simply put, the new vaccine takes information from a patient's immune system and the tumor and uses it to help white blood cells to fight it.
"We're giving them life and giving them hope," says Dr. Schoenberger.
The first patient in the clinical trial is Tamara Strauss. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 and went through chemotherapy and surgery.
"It was brutal," says Strauss. "It's been three and a half years of hell."
Strauss' parents helped fund the clinical trial with a $1 million donation. She says she feels fortunate they could do that, but also hopeful that it helps others down the road.
"I really pray that this vaccine and personalized form of treatment really does change the paradigm of cancer treatment," says Strauss.
During the trial, ten patients will get three doses of the vaccine. They'll also be on Keytruda, an immune system boosting drug for up to two years. Their health will be monitored for five years to determine the vaccine's effectiveness.