University of Otago scientists design world first colorectal cancer vaccine
New Zealand scientists are working on what they hope will be a world-first vaccine for colorectal cancer that tricks the immune system into thinking tumours are invading viruses.
Initial tests by the University of Otago researchers show that, when tested on mice, the vaccine boosted colorectal cancer survival to 60 per cent and completely cured the mice of their primary tumours.
The work is described as being particularly important for New Zealanders, who suffer twice the incidence of colorectal cancer compared to the world average.
Colorectal cancer kills 700,000 globally each year.
Lead author on the study Braeden Donaldson said their new "therapeutic" vaccine was not like a traditional vaccine, which simply prevented the disease before it had occurred.
"This vaccine re-educates the immune system to allow it to locate, target, and destroy the cancer cells whereever they are found throughout the body," Donaldson said.
The new vaccine fell under the emerging field of immunotherapy cancer treatment, which was far less invasive than the common treatments of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
"Chemotherapy is essentially synonymous to carpet bombing an insurgent stronghold - attempting to eliminate a major threat while accepting the risk of civilian casualties in the surrounding neighbourhood," Donaldson said.
"It is an effective, but very crude approach.
"Immunotherapy is our best chance for identifying new treatments for cancer with limited adverse side-effects."
The University of Otago findings were presented at the 2016 International Congress of Immunology held in Melbourne this week.
The high incidence of colorectal cancer among New Zealanders has made it a national health issue, particular in Otago and Southland which have the highest incidence of the cancer across the country.
"The cause of the high incidence of colorectal cancer in New Zealand is not an easy thing to pinpoint," Donaldson said.
"The World Health Organisation recently released a report that significantly correlates the consumption of grilled or charcoaled red meats with the development of colorectal cancer.
"The traditional Kiwi barbecue may thus be a contributing factor to an increased incidence of the disease, although there may be many other dietary, genetic and environmental factors at play."
The next step in the University of Otago's colorectal cancer vaccine programme, co-supervised by Associate Professor Sarah Young and Professor Vernon Ward, is a move to human clinical trials.
"This process involves developing, producing and validating the vaccine in pre-clinical studies, establishing collaborations with institutions with the capability to manufacture vaccines to GMP grade - suitable for injection into humans," Donaldson said.
"The speed under which this process may be completed is largely dependent upon funding, as translating a vaccine from the laboratory to the clinic requires significant investment of time, money and resources."