Liver cancer vaccine with immunotherapy shows promise in new trial

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Researchers say a personalized cancer vaccine with immunotherapy increased tumor shrinkage compared to immunotherapy alone. VICTOR TORRES/Stocksy
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of liver cancer, accounting for more than 80% of cases.
  • Immunotherapy is one of the newest treatment options for HCC, but not everyone responds to it.
  • Researchers from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found combining immunotherapy with a personalized anti-tumor vaccine increased tumor shrinkage compared to immunotherapy alone.

Liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world. Researchers estimate 905,700 people were diagnosed with liver cancer in 2020 and that number is expected to hit 1.4 million by 2040.

Health">Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer, accounting for more than Health">80% of all cases.

One of the newest treatment options for HCC is immunotherapy — a treatment using a person’s own immune system to fight the cancer. However, past studies show only 15–20% of HCC diagnoses respond to immunotherapy and about 30% may be resistant.

Now, the results of a preliminary clinical trial show that people with HCC treated with immunotherapy and a personalized anti-tumor vaccine were twice as likely to experience tumor shrinkage compared to those receiving immunotherapy only.

The results of the trial were published April 7 in Nature Medicine.

After reviewing the results of this study, Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, surgical oncologist, chief of medicine and Director of the Gastrointestinal and Hepatobiliary Program at Providence Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA, told MNT he was “absolutely astonished” at the results in this early vaccine trial.

“HCC is one of the most common cancers in the world and it’s typically been very resistant to treatment,” Bilchik explained. “Recently, immunotherapy has been introduced as a possible treatment for patients with advanced HCC, but the response rates for immunotherapy have not been great.”

“What this study does is take patients’ own tumor and create a personalized vaccine, which doubles the response of the immunotherapy that is currently used for HCC,” he continued. “Not only are the results astonishing, but these are patients that have failed first-line treatment and are not amenable to resection or transplantation.”

MNT also spoke with Martin Gutierrez, MD, director of Phase I research at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, about this study.

“(This is) very encouraging news,” Gutierrez commented. “(The next research step should be a) larger Phase II trial in first-line therapy.”

When asked if we will see more personalized cancer vaccines in the future, Bilchik said absolutely.

“This is the future. And what makes this approach unique is that not only are they using the patient’s own tumor biopsy cells to identify these mutations, but they take it a step further by using these computational algorithms to predict which genes can be recognized by the patient’s own immune system. So this is getting into the field of really advanced technology and then ultimately artificial intelligence.”

— Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, surgical oncologist

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