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A step forward in personalised, targeted cancer treatment

An EU-funded clinical trial is underway to see if personalised vaccines targeting individual patient needs can lead to better survival rates.

Personalised vaccines to treat patients with glioblastoma – one of the most virulent forms of brain cancer – are being developed through an ambitious EU-funded project. Clinical trials have just begun, which will give researchers a clearer understanding of how individual tumours can best be targeted. The GAPVAC project is the first EU-funded initiative aimed at developing personalised vaccines to treat this form of brain cancer. There is a pressing need to improve patient care here, as treatments currently available have little effect on overall survival. Current treatments work by fitting the patient’s treatment to existing drugs. In contrast, the GAPVAC project aims to develop treatments for each patient by identifying and targeted individual cell mutations. The project researchers are in the process of collecting relevant genetic information from a selection of glioblastoma patients. The screening of the first patients for this trial recent got underway at the University Hospital of Heidelberg, Germany and the University Hospital of Tuebingen, Germany. Researchers will identify genes expressed in tumours, peptides presented on the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) receptor, cancer specific mutations and the ability of the immune system to mount a response to certain antigens. Based on this information they will then administer two vaccine cocktails. The first vaccine will be a tailored selection of peptides based on the target profile of the individual cancer tissue and the ability of the individual’s immune system to induce a response to the selected targets. The second vaccine will be based on a genetic analysis of the patient and will largely target mutations occurring in the cancer but not in healthy tissue. In beginning clinical trials with patients, GAPVAC represents an important milestone in the development of personalised cancer treatments. Researchers increasingly believe that personalised therapies such as this will lead to more effective treatments and be less harmful to normal cells. Indeed, a key goal of the project is not only to show that personalised medicine encourages better disease control and longer overall survival responses, but also to demonstrate that personalised vaccines are practical and feasible. 'The trial concept is exactly the right combination of exceptional science and a rigorous protocol for a disease for which over-simplified strategies have failed in the past,' says Professor Wolfgang Wick, Chair of the Neurology Clinic at the University of Heidelberg. 'The scientific approach in this trial offers the chance for each involved patient to benefit clinically. In addition, we will learn a lot for future efforts in immunotherapy, bridging the precision of genomic medicine and immunotherapy.' The GAPVAC consortium includes 14 organisations in Europe and the United States, and is being supported by a EUR 6 million grant from the EU’s FP7 programme. Researchers hope that the work carried out through the project – due for completion in 2017 – will open the door to the development of vaccines for other types of cancer. For further information: