Indian American-led study finds vaccine to prevent head, neck cancer

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Charu Aggarwal (Courtesy: Penn Medicine)

Indian American Charu Aggarwal, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology at Pennsylvania State University’s Perelman School of Medicine, has led a study at the Abramson Cancer Center in which a new immunotherapy approach to prevent a specific cancer, was tested.

This new immunotherapy approach utilized a vaccine called MEDI0457, which is a DNA vaccine that has a therapeutic benefit and can help immune cells infiltrate tumors.

The study found that giving a patient a dosage of the vaccine could prevent them from getting advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCCa), a cancer caused by smoking, tobacco use and the HPV infection, a press release says.

According to the press release, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 70 percent of all head and neck cancers in the U.S. are caused by an HPV infection and patients with this type of HNSCCa cancer can be treated through surgery or chemotherapy and radiation.

A way to prevent the cancer is to prevent the infection from occurring with HPV vaccines.

During the study, researchers gave four doses of the vaccine to 21 patients, who were separated into two different groups, where one group was given one dose before their surgery and three after, while the second group was given four doses after their chemotherapy and radiation.

As a result, 18 out of the 21 patients showed elevated T-cell activity that lasted at least three months after the final vaccine dose was given to them, which meant that the effect of the vaccine lasted for at least six months from the start of immunotherapy, the press release says.

Also during the study, five tumors were biopsied both, before and after one dose of the vaccine, resulting in the evidence of T-cells reacting with antigens that were in the vaccine in all five of the “after” samples.

“We wanted to know if this vaccine can boost the immune systems of patients with HPV-related head and neck cancer, potentially opening the door for better response rates to other existing therapies, and our findings show that we can,” Aggarwal is quoted saying in the press release. “We have not seen that kind of infiltration with just one dose of a vaccine before. These findings open the door for utilizing targeted immunotherapy approaches against specific cancer causing targets like HPV.”

According to the press release, this study was one of the main Penn-led studies that are a part of a multi-site clinical trial, which combines the vaccine with an anti-PD-1 therapy for patients with metastatic HPV-associated head and neck cancer.

The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute, MedImmune and Innovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

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