Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Birmingham's online course, Cancer Immunotherapy: a Step Change in Cancer Treatment. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds GRAHAM TAYLOR: Hello, my name’s Graham Taylor, I’m a cancer immunologist here at the University of Birmingham. As we discussed in week one, we know that we can use vaccines to prevent infections. Such vaccines work by giving the immune system a harmless bit of a pathogen, or a modified pathogen that is unable to cause illness. The immune response is either stimulated by the vaccine that’s still effective, and can recognise and deal with any of the harmful pathogens should you encounter them. Because some of the immune cells stimulated by the vaccine are kept in immunological memory, your immune system is ready to act quickly should you be infected with the real pathogen in the future.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds Vaccines are one of the single greatest medical advances ever made, and have had a truly dramatic impact on human health. For many years now, immunologists have been trying to see if vaccines can be used to fight cancer. There are already some vaccines being used to prevent certain types of cancer from developing. One example is the human papilloma virus vaccine that is now being given to young women in many countries. This vaccine works by preventing infection with certain strains of papilloma virus that are associated with cervical cancer. We’re already seeing good size of protection from cervical warts that these viruses can also cause. We hope to see that this protection extends to cancer, as well, in the future.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds It is estimated that the HPV vaccine, if truly effective, could help save up to 400 lives each year in the UK alone. But what about people that have already developed cancer? Can vaccination be used to boost their immune response against the cancer cells? Such vaccines are called therapeutic vaccines. But for them to work, scientists need to find the right immune targets. The best targets will be those that are present in all the cancer cells, but not in the patient’s normal cells. So the immune response that is generated will attack only the cancer.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds Ideally, the targets will also be present in large numbers of cases of cancer, so that a single vaccine could be made for use in large numbers of patients. However, some scientists are developing new vaccines that can potentially be customised to each patient’s cancer. Regardless of each type of vaccine, clinical trials have shown that therapeutic cancer vaccines can boost the number of an anti-cancer T cells in patients. This can result in patient benefits. In my laboratory, we’ve developed a therapeutic vaccine to treat patients with cancers associated with the Epstein-Barr virus. This virus is linked to about 1% of all cancers. The targets we are using are viral proteins that are present in all cases of EBV-related cancer.

Skip to 2 minutes and 40 seconds Working with colleagues from the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Centre here in Birmingham, and national and international teams, the vaccine’s been tested in several clinical trials. We’ve shown that the vaccine can boost immune responses to the EBV targets, and is currently being tested in a phase II trial to see if these increased immune responses will [INAUDIBLE] benefit patients with EBV-related cancer. For cancers that do not contain viral proteins for the immune system to target, therapeutic vaccination is a greater challenge. However, scientists are developing new ways to prepare personalised vaccines that can specifically target the mutated proteins present in individual patient’s tumours.

Cancer vaccines: the next frontier in cancer immunotherapy?

Vaccines against infectious diseases have transformed human health, however, can this strategy be used to harness the immune system against cancer?

In this video, Dr Graham Taylor, a Senior Lecturer in Tumour Immunology at the University of Birmingham discusses the current standpoint of vaccines for cancer and strategies for the future development of personalised vaccines.

Reflect on any new information or ideas and share your thoughts with other learners in the comments area.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Cancer Immunotherapy: a Step Change in Cancer Treatment

University of Birmingham