For half a century, researchers have dreamed of giving cancer patients a vaccine that helps the immune system detect the tumors as foreign tissue and wipe them out. But hundreds of attempts helped few patients. Now, a new approach that tailors a personalized vaccine to the mutated proteins in an individual’s tumor appears to have prevented early relapses in 12 people with skin cancer. It also may have helped several others by boosting the power of a new type of cancer drug that uses a different mechanism to unleash an immune attack on the tumor.
…The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco, California, launched a year ago by Napster co-founder and biotech billionaire Sean Parker, is trying to figure out how to tailor the best possible vaccines through a competition. Thirty companies and academic groups will receive the same set of tumor samples from individual patients and will try to predict the best neoantigens. The Parker Institute and another sponsor will test them with lab assays, then feed back the results so participants can improve their algorithms. Says Parker Institute Vice President for Research Fred Ramsdell: “At the end, we’ll have a good idea of how to correctly pick neoantigens for a vaccine.”