The Latest on the Journey toward Human Breast Cancer Vaccine Development
Vincent Tuohy, PhD, of the Lerner Research Institute's Department of Immunology, recently had an opportunity to go to Washington, DC, to present his prototype breast cancer vaccine research to Capitol Hill. His findings, published in Nature Medicine, showed overwhelmingly favorable results in a mouse model, begging the question, "what's the next step to prevent the disease in humans?"
Representatives Marcia Fudge and Betty Sutton of Ohio and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and other members of Congress were in attendance during the standing-room-only briefing. The need for funding in order for the preliminary research to go to clinical trial was discussed. "We'd like to study this in another mammal, and my favorite mammal is humans," said Dr. Tuohy.
Dr. Tuohy went on to explain, "The next step is the clinic – we're applying for funds from everywhere." Financial support from NIH/NCI (including American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funding), as well as from foundations and philanthropy, has gotten the research to this point. However, funding for the next phase, clinical trials, is usually more difficult to come by. He estimates a target date of 2020 for the new vaccine, although time, funding, and FDA requirements are among the hurdles.
Despite recognizing the extent of the work yet to be done, Representative Wasserman Schultz calls the vaccine an "absolute game-changer." As a breast cancer survivor who benefited from early detection, Wasserman Schultz says of herself, "I am a product of the breast cancer research out there."
Joseph Crowe, MD, Director of the Breast Center at Cleveland Clinic, also presented at the Congressional briefing, saying that Dr. Tuohy's immunologic approach to breast cancer is "a huge groundbreaking change." Dr. Crowe previously explained the innovative nature of this vaccine: "Most attempts at cancer vaccines have targeted viruses, or cancers that have already developed. Dr. Tuohy is not a breast cancer researcher, he's an immunologist, so his approach is completely different – attacking the tumor before it can develop. It's a simple concept, yet one that has not been explored until now."
The strategy would be to vaccinate women over 40 – when breast cancer risk begins to increase and pregnancy becomes less likely. (If a woman would become pregnant after being vaccinated, she would experience breast soreness and would likely have to choose not to breast feed.) For younger women with a heightened risk of breast cancer, the vaccine may be an option to consider instead of prophylactic mastectomy.
Dr. Crowe made the points that the incidence of breast cancer is going up at an alarming rate, and even though we are able to diagnose it earlier, "there is still no way to prevent it." Chemotherapy or prophylactic bilateral mastectomy "is not the solution," says Crowe.
Dr. Tuohy concluded with, "This vaccine is too important to ignore."