Jocelyn Kaiser in Science:
Vaccines to prevent certain types of cancer already exist. They target viruses: hepatitis B virus, which can trigger liver cancer, and human papillomavirus, which causes cervical and some other cancers. But most cancers are not caused by viruses. The Lynch vaccine trial will be one of the first clinical tests of a vaccine to prevent nonviral cancers.
The idea is to deliver into the body bits of proteins, or antigens, from cancer cells to stimulate the immune system to attack any incipient tumors. The concept isn’t new, and it has faced skepticism. A decade ago, a Nature editorial dismissed a prominent breast cancer advocacy group’s goal of developing a preventive vaccine by 2020 as “misguided,” in part because of the genetic complexity of tumors. The editorial called the goal an “objective that science cannot yet deliver.” But now, a few teams—including one funded by the same advocacy group, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC)—are poised to test preventive vaccines, in some cases in healthy people at high genetic risk for breast and other cancers. Their efforts have been propelled by new insights into the genetic changes in early cancers, along with the recognition that because even nascent tumors can suppress the immune system, the vaccines should work best in healthy people who have never had cancer.