Tag: Cancer

Boosting The Immune System With Vaccines To Fight Cancer

cancer cells

Immunotherapies have been taking the biotech world by storm. Among these are cancer vaccines, which are directed at solid tumors and aim to boost patients’ immune systems to fight cancer.

The cancer vaccine world is broad, with many players.Here’s an overview of some of the current efforts underway by European biotechs.

One big player in the cancer vaccine world is BioNTech, a German biotech working on personalized mRNA-based immunotherapies.

We try to provide individualized immunotherapies. If you try to compare two patients’ tumors, they are never the same. We recognize this fact and try to develop individualized treatments for each patient,” Sean Marett, the company’s COO, said last June 20 at Labiotech Refresh in Berlin.




One of BioNTech’s cancer vaccine platforms is IVAC (Individualized Vaccines Against Cancer) MUTANOME, where patient’s tumors are sequenced to identify neoantigens, which are then incorporated into an mRNA-based vaccine.

We’re doing, effectively, de novo target discovery in real time,” Marett says.

The company also has two approaches, FixVAC and RNA WAREHOUSE, which are based on the knowledge that across patient populations, there are shared antigens that are expressed differently in each individual.

“Regarding our FixVac approach, each eligible patient is treated with exactly the same product,” Marett tells Labiotech.

“With respect to our RNA WAREHOUSE concept, we’re calibrating the treatment for each patient to their individualized expression of the cancer-selective shared antigens.”

cancer cells

BioNTech has partnered with big industry players, such as Genentech, to develop its cancer vaccines.

They currently have a number of products in Phase I and Phase I/II clinical trials for various indications, including melanoma, head and neck cancer, and breast cancer.

Another German biotech, CureVac, is also working hard to bring mRNA-based approach to the clinic. Though they recently suffered a Phase II failure of its candidate CV9104 for prostate cancer. The company has additional drugs in the pipeline, including a vaccine targeting non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

syringe

The company has additional drugs in the pipeline, including a vaccine targeting non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

“What we’ve learned here is that mRNA is not enough on its own— you have to break tolerance and you have to make it more immunogenic.” CureVac CEO Ingmar Hoerr told Labiotech in January.

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Can People Catch Cancer? Not Likely, But Some Animals Can

These guys are seriously threatened by a contagious cancer, largely because of how much they love to touch each other’s faces.

Recent headlines about contagious cancers found in some animals may make you wonder: Could I catch cancer? In Australia, Tasmanian devils are dying from aggressive facial tumors caused by a contagious virus.

In the Atlantic Ocean, some clams are developing a form of leukemia caused by cancer cells suspended in the water. And scientists have known for years that dogs can spread cancer cells from one to another during intercourse.

Despite recent headlines about cancer being contagious in other species, current data shows it’s virtually impossible in humans,” says Dr. Glen Weiss, Director of Clinical Research and Phase I & II Clinical Trials at our hospital near Phoenix.

“There have been attempts to transfect people without cancer with cancer cells, and it did not work.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Chester Southam, a New York immunologist, conducted several controversial experiments by injecting live cancer cells into uninformed cancer patients and healthy prisoners.




While patients in both studies grew tumors, those in the healthy patients were quickly attacked and eliminated by their immune systems.

Foreign cells would more likely be rejected just like an organ donation or bone marrow transplant from a donor,” Dr. Weiss says.

In order to take, a recipient would likely require significant immunosuppression.” Southam was widely criticized for his experiments on humans and his medical license was suspended for one year.

Organ recipients are at a higher risk of developing cancer, but only in rare cases has the cancer been linked to the organ donor having cancer.

Such cases are so rare that some cancer patients are still eligible to donate organs. Some recipients develop cancer because the body’s immune system is suppressed to help prevent organ rejection.

Fortunately, survival of transplanted cancers in healthy humans is exceedingly rare and documented by only a small handful of cases,” Dr. James S. Welsh, a radiation oncologist currently with the Loyola University Health System writes in a 2011 article on contagious cancer.

“Thus, friends and family members of cancer patients and we, as caregivers of cancer patients, need not be unduly concerned with the remote possibility of ‘catching cancer.”

Humans may spread contagious viruses that lead to cancer. For instance, the human papillomavirus (HPV)  is responsible for virtually all cases of cervical cancer.

It is also linked to most cases of vaginal and vulvar cancer and more than half the cases of penile cancer. The virus is also linked to 90 percent of anal cancers and 72 percent of oropharyngeal cancer.

The hepatitis B and C viruses may lead to hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer.

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Alternative Medicine For Cancer More Than Doubles Death Risk

Crystal healing stones are evidently a less effective way of beating a tumor.

Going the route of alternative medicine to treat a form of curable cancer instead of undergoing conventional treatment more than doubles a person’s risk of dying, according to a new study from Yale University researchers.

One in three Americans has engaged in some kind of alt-therapy with varying results, but when it comes to cancer, the data suggests that herbs and crystals will not save a life.




We now have evidence to suggest that using alternative medicine in place of proven cancer therapies results in worse survival,” lead researcher Skyler Johnson told the Yale News.

The researchers looked at 10 years’ worth of records from the National Cancer Database and found that 281 patients within that time who had early-stage breast, lung, prostate or colorectal cancer who decided to take an alternative approach to their treatment.

Those patients were then compared to 560 others with the same diagnoses who chose more scientific approaches like chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

Patients who chose alternative medicine approaches that include things like “herbs, botanicals, homeopathy, special diets or energy crystals — which are basically just stones that people believe to have healing powers,” Dr. Johnson said.

To account for disparities that people face in the medical world the researchers placed biases in favor of the alternative medicine group — they were all younger, more affluent and were otherwise healthy.

These patients should be doing better than the standard therapy group, but they’re not,” researcher James Yu told MedPage Today.

That’s a scary thing to me. These are young patients who could potentially be cured, and they’re being sold snake oil by unscrupulous alternative medicine practitioners.

With this data and the urging of oncologists and all of their cancer expertise, the researchers are hopeful that doctors can educate their patients and communicate to them all of the drastic risks of alternative medical approaches.

Because of patient autonomy, they can do whatever they want,” Yu said. “We’re always advising them (but) we can’t make them do anything.

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Contagious Cancer Drives the Risk of Extinction Of Tasmanian Devils

Twenty years ago, scientists identified a bizarre new disease afflicting Australia’s Tasmanian devils. These black, rambunctious, corgi-sized predators started turning up with grotesque facial tumors that proved invariably fatal.

The disease, aptly named devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), quickly spread through the devils’ island home of Tasmania, slashing their numbers by up to 90 percent in some regions, and consigning them to the endangered-species list in 2008.

After a decade, scientists realized that all cases of DFTD are genetically identical. The tumors were all clones of each other, and distinct from the devils that harbor them.

The conclusion was clear and astonishing—DFTD is a contagious cancer, and the devils were catching it from each other.

Cancers are almost always confined to a single body: when their host dies, so do they. But in the Tasmanian devils, one particular tumor had evolved the ability to jump from host to host.

The boisterous devils spread this transmissible tumor when they squabble over carcasses and bite each other in the face.




Contagious cancers don’t exist in humans; we can develop cancer after contracting infections like the HPV virus or the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, but the tumors themselves can’t spread between people.

In fact, DFTD is one of only three known wild transmissible tumors.

There’s also CTVT, a venereal tumor of dogs, which arose around 11,000 years ago, and has since conquered the world by hitchhiking on the genitals of domestic pooches.

And there’s a water-borne leukemia that’s spreading through North America’s soft-shell clams. That’s it.

They’re flukes of nature,” says Elizabeth Murchison from the University of Cambridge, who has studied DFTD for years. Our whole paradigm about transmissible cancers is that they’re extraordinarily rare.

Or are they?

In March 2014, Murchison’s colleague Ruth Pye, a graduate student at the University of Tasmania, noticed something weird about a facial tumor taken from a devil captured just north of Hobart.

Physically, it looked like DFTD; genetically, it was clearly something different. For example, DFTD cells have lost their X and Y sex chromosomes, both of which were present in the new tumor.

Pye reasoned that this particular devil had spontaneously developed its own type of facial tumor that looked like DFTD, but wasn’t. It was a one-off.

Except, a few months later, she found the same genetically distinct tumor in a second devil from the same area.

In both cases, the tumors bore absolutely no genetic resemblance to either DFTD or their respective hosts. These devils had developed a second type of contagious cancer.

We absolutely couldn’t believe it,” says Murchison. “It’s the last thing I could have possibly imagined.”

It could be that the devils are extraordinarily susceptible to these kinds of cancers.

A historical population crash left them with very low genetic diversity, which perhaps stops their immune systems from recognizing the foreign cancer cells and fighting them off.

They also bite each other on the face a lot, which provides an easy route of transmission.

But that doesn’t explain why DFT1 and DFT2 didn’t exist before the 1990s. It’s unlikely that scientists simply didn’t notice; as Murchison says, you can’t miss tumors that are that obvious.

Maybe something is triggering them, some kind of predisposing agent or infection,” says Murchison. “We really don’t understand it.

There’s one silver lining: DFT2 could help scientists to better understand DFT1, its more common and problematic cousin. “Any mutations that are common to both of them are probably going to be important,” says Murchison.

I’m hoping it’s a chance to learn more about transmissible cancers in devils and do something to help save them.

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Study Finds That Taking Heavy Doses Of Vitamin B Supplements May Increase Lung Cancer Risk

A new study has found a link between heavy vitamin B6 and B12 supplementation and lung cancer in men, especially men who smoke.

The researchers report that the risk is two to four times greater for long-term users of the supplements compared to non-users.

The study analyzed data for just over 77,000 participants, age 56-70, in the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study, a long-term observational study that examined the association between vitamin and mineral supplementation and cancer risk.




Participants reported their vitamin B usage, including dosage information, for the 10-year period prior to the study.

The research team found the highest risk for male smokers taking more than 20 mg of B6 or 55 micrograms of B12 a day for 10 years.

Male smokers taking B6 were at three times greater lung cancer risk; those taking B12 were at four times greater risk. Non-smoking men were at twice the risk as those not taking the supplements. Women were not found to be at greater risk.

The study accounted for a range of factors that could influence the outcome, including age, race, education, alcohol consumption, body mass, and family history of lung cancer.

With these and additional factors weighed in, the risk remained high for men taking high doses of the supplements, particularly smokers.

Our data shows that taking high doses of B6 and B12 over a very long period of time could contribute to lung cancer incidence rates in male smokers. This is certainly a concern worthy of further evaluation,” said lead study author Theodore Brasky, PhD in a press statement.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 is 1.3 milligrams in men and women ages 19-50; 1.7 milligrams in men aged 51 and older; and 1.3 milligrams in women aged 51 and older, according to the National Institutes of Health.

For B12 the recommended daily amount is 2.4 micrograms for ages 14 and older. The amounts of both vitamins associated with cancer risk in this study were significantly higher than the government’s recommendations.

These findings contradict a long-held belief that vitamin B supplementation may reduce cancer risk.

Previous research found a link between high levels of B6 and a reduction in lung cancer risk for smokers and nonsmokers, but the participant sample size was considerably smaller than in the latest study.

This was an observational study, and it’s important to note (as with all studies of this type) that the findings are a correlation, not proof of causation.

A second study is underway to replicate these results in another large participant group.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Vitamin C Could Be Up To 100 Times More Effective Than Drugs At Killing Cancer Cells

Researchers from the University of Salford gave cancer cells increasing doses of the antibiotic doxycycline over three months.

They then gave the cells vitamin C, which restricts their energy source to just glucose.

This kept the cells alive, albeit severely weakened. Vitamin C does this by inhibiting most of the cells’ energy-making processes.

The researchers then took away glucose, resulting in the cells’ starvation.




Results, published in the journal Oncotarget, revealed that when vitamin C is given with doxycycline it is nearly 100 times more effective than standard-of-care drugs at killing cancer cells, according to the researchers.

This builds on research by the University of Salford back in March that found vitamin C alone is up to 10 times more effective at stopping cancer cell growth than drugs.

As doxycycline and vitamin C are both relatively non-toxic, the findings could dramatically reduce the possible side effects of cancer treatment, the researchers add.

Professor Lisanti said: “This is further evidence that vitamin C and other non-toxic compounds may have a role to play in the fight against cancer.

Our results indicate it is a promising agent for clinical trials, and as an add-on to more conventional therapies, to prevent tumour recurrence, further disease progression and metastasis.

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‘Alternative Cancer Therapies’ May Increase Your Risk Of Death

Cancer patients who use alternative medicine more than twice as likely to die,” is the stark message from The Independent.

Researchers found that people who chose alternative medicine instead of conventional cancer treatments were much less likely to survive for at least five years.

Conventional treatments included surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormone treatments. The research only applies to people who choose not to have conventional treatments.

Overall, 78% of people having conventional treatment for cancer survived at least five years, compared to only 55% of people having alternative treatment alone.




The difference was biggest for breast cancer, where people who chose alternative therapies were more than five times as likely to die within five years as those who chose conventional treatments.

Because this is an observational study, we don’t know if other factors might have affected people’s survival chances, as well as treatment choice. However, treatment choice seems the most likely explanation.

There are reports that some people find complementary treatments of benefit during cancer treatments. For example, some people have said that acupuncture helped them cope better with the side effects of chemotherapy.

But importantly, the emphasis is very much on the “complementary” and not on the “alternative“. Ignoring medical advice on the treatment choices that potentially offer the most benefit could prove fatal.

This was an observational case control study. This means researchers identified people with cancer who chose to use alternative therapies (cases) and compared their outcomes with those of people with cancer who chose conventional treatments (controls).

The controls were matched as far as possible with each case based on age, sex, demographics and type of cancer. Observational studies can show trends and links between factors (in this case between

Observational studies can show trends and links between factors (in this case between type of treatment and length of survival after cancer diagnosis) but cannot prove that one causes the other.

Researchers used data from the US National Cancer Database to identify patients with breast, lung, colorectal or prostate cancer, who opted not to receive conventional cancer therapies, but were recorded as having had “other-unproven cancer treatments administered by non-medical personnel.

These patients were matched with two patients with the same type of cancer, who were similar in other ways, but had opted for conventional treatment.

Researchers then looked to see how many people lived for at least five years, comparing those who chose alternative therapies with those who chose conventional cancer treatments.

Researchers only included people who had cancer that had not yet spread from the initial site. This type of cancer is usually treatable by conventional treatments.

They also excluded people with stage 4 (advanced) cancer, those whose treatment was intended to be palliative rather than curative, and people whose treatment was unknown.

Researchers found 281 people who matched the criteria and who had opted for alternative therapy only. Of these, 280 were matched to 560 people with the same cancer, who chose conventional cancer treatments.

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