A personalized cancer vaccine markedly improved outcomes for patients suffering from acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a potentially lethal blood cancer, in a clinical trial led by investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). The product of a long-term collaboration among investigators at the Cancer Center at BIDMC and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the vaccine stimulated powerful immune responses against AML cells and resulted in protection from relapse in a majority of patients, the team of researchers reported today in Science Translational Medicine.
“Immunotherapy strategies leverage the body’s own defense systems to fight cancer cells,” said senior author David Avigan, MD, Chief, Section of Hematological Malignancies and Director of the Cancer Vaccine Program at the BIDMC Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “By creating a personalized vaccine, we use the power of the immune system to selectively target each patient’s cancer and avoid the side effects of chemotherapy.”
Patients with AML may achieve remission following standard chemotherapy, yet relapse is common, and most patients ultimately succumb to the disease. In this study, the team of collaborators from BIDMC and Dana-Farber generated personalized vaccines for 17 patients with AML who were in remission after undergoing standard chemotherapy.
Despite an average age of 63, more than 70 percent of trial participants remained in remission at an average follow-up period of more than four years. After receiving a series of injections of the vaccine, patients demonstrated an increase in the number of leukemia-specific T cells in the blood and bone marrow. T cells are immune cells critical to the body’s ability to recognize and remember pathogens like viruses, or in this case, cancer cells. Present only in low numbers prior to vaccination, T cells recognizing AML cells were expanded after vaccination, potentially providing long-term protection against the leukemia.
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“With the vaccine, we use the immune system to target the whole tumor including cells that may be resistant to chemotherapy,” stated lead author Jacalyn Rosenblatt, MD, Co-Director of the Cancer Vaccine Program at the BIDMC Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “We were really excited to see that the vaccine generated a broad and durable immune response without significant side effects.