Cancer kills 8 million people worldwide every year, 14 million new cancer cases are diagnosed annually and finding a cure for various types of it has proven elusive.
Research into using cancer vaccines to activate of the immune system to treat cancer has increased significantly in recent years. The first therapeutic cancer vaccine for prostate cancer was approved by the FDA in 2010. Now there are several other therapeutic cancer vaccines in development.
Cancer vaccines are said to be highly specific with limited side effects. The market for cancer vaccines is poised to dramatically increase to over $7 billion by 2015, as therapeutic vaccines become used both as a stand-alone front-line treatment and as a combination treatment with other existing therapies.
Vaxil Biotheraputics, an Israeli biotechnology company is developing a vaccine that is designed to prevent cancer from returning. The company, based in Nes Ziona, Israel, has developed ImMucin, a prophylactic cancer vaccine that can trigger a response in about 90 percent of all types of cancer. According to Julian Levy, Vaxil's CFO, the company is "trying to harness the natural power of the immune system to fight against cancer by seeking out cancer cells and destroying them."
ImMucin is a 21-mer synthetic vaccine composed of the entire signal peptide domain of the MUC1 protein. ImMucin is intended to stimulate the patient's own immune system to control cancer by reacting to the natural corresponding MUC1 antigen as expressed on the surface of cancer cells.
The vaccine is not a replacement for traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. Instead, Vaxil is targeting a different stage in the patient's battle against cancer, specifically the early stages of the detection, as well as during remission. Because the drug requires a relatively healthy body in order to be fully effective, it will not be helpful to cancer patients in advanced stages of the disease. Unlike traditional vaccines, ImMucin is given to people who are already sick, and it acts like a drug that has physiological effects when introduced to the body.
ImMucin stimulates a part of the immune system and guides it to attack cells with markers that indicate the presence of cancer. According to the company, by introducing the drug during an early stage of cancer, it trains the patient's immune system to destroy cancer cells if the disease recurs.
ImMucin is a small and defined domain expressed only on tumor cells and not in the blood stream. It does not contain any non-specific epitopes that could reduce specific anti-cancer immunity. ImMucin was shown to selectively be expressed on tumor cells in association with MHC molecules to ensure specific anti-cancer activity. ImMucin can bind multiple MHC Class I and Class II alleles for broader immunity by multiple T cell clones, and it is applicable to the entire population. It has internal antigen-specific "adjuvant-like" properties that can reduce the need for additional external adjutants. It can efficiently deal with immune escape mechanism mediated by cancer cells.
Extensive preclinical studies have demonstrated that mMucin is highly effective in inducing a robust and broad T cell immunity against MUC1 expressing tumors in various in-vitro assays. In in vivo studies, the anti-MUC1 immunity induced by ImMucin performed better than other MUC1-dervied peptide epitopes including the antigen sequence in the BLP-25 vaccine (Merck AG) currently in Phase III studies. This immune response has been consistent throughout Vaxil's clinical trials on the vaccine during the past few years. Vaxil ran trials exclusively on multiple myeloma patients until January 2014, when it began trials on breast cancer patients.