London: Scientists have developed a new vaccine that could fight seven in ten lethal cancers and is thought to be even more effective than the ‘wonder drug’ Herceptin, for treatment against tumours.
They found that the new drug shrunk breast tumours by 80 per cent, and believe it could also tackle prostate, pancreatic, bowel and ovarian cancers.
The experiments done so far have been on mice, but the researchers hope to pilot the drug on people within two years.
If all goes well, the vaccine – one of the first to combat cancer – could be on the market by 2020.
Rather than attacking cancer cells, like many drugs, the new treatment harnesses the power of the immune system to fight tumours.
The search for cancer vaccines has until now been hampered by fears that healthy tissue would be destroyed with tumours.
To overcome this, researchers from the University of Georgia and the Mayo Clinic in the United States focused on a protein called MUC1 that is made in bigger amounts in cancerous cells than in healthy ones.
Not only is there more of it, but a sugar that it is ‘decorated’ with has a distinctive shape.
The vaccine ‘trains’ the immune system to recognise the rogue sugar and turn its arsenal against the cancer.
“Cancer cells have a special way of thwarting the immune system by putting sugars on the surface of tumour cells so they can travel around the body without being detected,” an English daily quoted researcher Professor Sandra Gendler as saying.
“To enable the immune system to recognise the sugar, it took a special vaccine that had three parts to it. That turned out to be a winning combination,” she explained.
Her co-author Professor Geert-Jan Boons said it reduces tumour size to 80 per cent.
“This vaccine elicits a very strong immune response. It activates all three components of the immune system to reduce tumour size by an average of 80 per cent,” Boons stated.