Promising new vaccine triggers immune system to fight brain cancer

3 min read

A new personalised vaccine can trigger the body’s own immune system to attack the most aggressive form of brain cancer, early studies suggest.

The first human trial of the mRNA vaccine, tested on four patients, found it triggers a strong immune response to fight aggressive glioblastoma (GBM).

Developed by researchers from the University of Florida, the vaccine reprogrammed the immune system to attack the cancer, with an immune response found just two days after the vaccine was given. The breakthrough means the vaccine can now be tested on a larger group of patients and 24 people will be recruited to the next part of the trial.

The most commonly diagnosed high-grade brain tumour in adults, GBM has an average survival of just 12-18 months. The current standard of care involves surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Brain scan showing a GBM tumour
Brain scan showing a GBM tumour


Researchers say the discovery represents a potential new way to activate the immune system to fight notoriously treatment-resistant cancers using an iteration of mRNA technology similar to COVID-19 vaccines, but with two main differences: the use of a patient’s own tumour cells to create a personalised vaccine and a newly engineered complex delivery mechanism within the vaccine.

In the trial, genetic material called RNA was extracted from each patient’s tumour, and then messenger RNA, or mRNA – the blueprint of what is inside every cell, including tumour cells – was amplified. It was then wrapped in the newly designed vaccine to make tumour cells look like a dangerous virus when reinjected into the bloodstream and prompt an immune-system response.

It is too early to assess the clinical effects of the vaccine, but patients in the trial either lived disease-free longer than expected or survived longer than expected.

Dr Karen Noble, our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, said: “More than 3,000 people are diagnosed with a GBM in the UK every year. This devastating form of cancer is notoriously difficult to treat, the options are very limited and there is no cure. News of this potential breakthrough and the fact it can now progress to a larger clinical trial is therefore hugely exciting for our community. The route to potential new treatments like this vaccine is underpinned by early-stage discovery research, like the work we are funding at our Centres of Excellence. This holds the key to unlocking a cure for GBM and all types of brain tumours.”

The research is published in the journal Cell and comes after the trial for the world’s first personalised mRNA cancer jab for melanoma was announced. The melanoma vaccine is now in final phase 3 trials led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

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