Vaccines against cancer?

What about vaccines against cancer?

In the news
27 May 2021


Brussels – Vaccines against infectious diseases may also induce anticancer immune responses, as illustrated by the approval of the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine to treat bladder cancer already in the 1970s. We have found another 16 existing vaccines which may also be potential cancer treatments.

The BCG vaccine, originally used to confer protection against tuberculosis, is used as a standard treatment for bladder cancer. However, it's not the only infectious diseases vaccine which may have activity against cancer - it is known that many such vaccines stimulate anticancer immune responses.

Building on previous work in the field of drug repurposing, a team from the Anticancer Fund carried out a detailed review of published data for all approved infectious diseases vaccines in order to assess which of them might be candidates for clinical investigation as anticancer treatments. In all, the review team found data, pre-clinical and clinical, for 16 infectious diseases vaccines. 10 of these are the subjects, or have been the subject, of clinical trials.

Repurposing of vaccines is not new, individual researchers have been investigating vaccines as cancer treatment for years. Unfortunately, the research field is quite fragmented and goes in all sorts of directions. Triggered by recent publications, we reviewed 20 years of research on repurposing existing infectious diseases vaccines in oncology and concluded that it represents a scientifically sound and potentially cost-effective strategy to bring new therapeutic options to cancer patients”, said Liese Vandeborne, lead author of the review, and Research Manager at the Anticancer Fund.

Four promising vaccines

The use of these vaccines is particularly interesting given the increased use of immunotherapy treatments in cancer, particularly the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors. These are some of the most expensive treatments in cancer, so the prospect of cheap infectious diseases vaccines in combination with these or other treatments is especially appealing. The authors identify four vaccines as being particularly promising - typhoid, influenza, measles and HPV.

In oncology, the interest in ‘vaccines’ has mainly been to develop new therapeutic cancer vaccines, with little success so far unfortunately. In our review, we show that a complementary approach is to study and simply use existing infectious diseases vaccines. Though attention to the details will be extremely important for future research, our review lays the foundation for the repurposing of existing vaccines in oncology”, added Gauthier Bouche, Director Clinical Research of the Anticancer Fund.

It is hoped that this wide-ranging and in-depth review will encourage researchers and clinicians to further investigate the potential of the repurposed vaccines in treating cancer.

You can read the full article here.