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Written By: Karen Selby, RN,
Last modified: September 27, 2021

Vaccines are traditionally used to prevent diseases. Traditional vaccines are made from small amounts of weak or dead viruses, bacteria and toxins. They prepare your immune system to fight diseases so that you don’t get sick.

Researchers are developing vaccines to treat cancer in addition to preventing it. Cancer vaccines either prevent cancer development or treat a cancer that has already developed.

Vaccines that aim to prevent cancer are called preventative cancer vaccines. Vaccines that aim to treat cancer are a type of immunotherapy called therapeutic cancer vaccines.

Vaccination leads to immunization, which makes a person immune to developing diseases or cancers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only one therapeutic cancer vaccine. Sipuleucel-T (Provenge) was approved in 2010 to treat advanced prostate cancer.

The FDA has approved a number of preventative cancer vaccines such as the HPV vaccine that prevents cervical cancer and the hepatitis B vaccine that prevents liver cancer.

No preventative or therapeutic cancer vaccine has been approved to treat mesothelioma, but researchers are working to develop them.

How Does a Cancer Vaccine Work?

Cancer vaccines stimulate the acquired immune system, also called the adaptive immune system, to get the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.

Cancer vaccines may prevent cancer from returning, kill cancer cells or stop cancer cells from growing and spreading.

Cancer vaccines work by targeting antigens, which are proteins on the surface of diseased cells, viruses and bacteria. Cancer vaccines help the immune system recognize antigens on cancerous cells and kill the cells.

Most cancer vaccines contain or are administered with adjuvants, which help boost the immune response. Vaccines are generally considered safe.

No vaccine for mesothelioma has proven effective yet, but clinical trials are testing new vaccines on a regular basis.

What Clinical Trials Are Testing Mesothelioma Vaccines?

Therapeutic cancer vaccines for mesothelioma are only available through clinical trials. A lot of the research on mesothelioma vaccines remain in the preliminary phases of testing in animal models.

Preventative Vaccine for Mesothelioma

Researchers at the University of Hawaii are working on a preventative mesothelioma vaccine called HIvax. It targets survivin, a protein found in mesothelioma cells.

According to a 2015 study published in Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, HIvax remains in the animal testing phase and has not been tested in human clinical trials.

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WT1 Vaccine for Mesothelioma

A phase II clinical trial of the WT1 vaccine in mesothelioma patients reported a median overall survival of 21.4 months in participants receiving the vaccine. Those who received a placebo survived 16.6 months.

These results helped the vaccine receive orphan drug status by the FDA in 2016. The orphan drug program facilitates approval for drugs that show promise in treating rare conditions.

A phase III trial is in the works and will begin when funding becomes available.

Stem Cell Vaccine for Mesothelioma

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine are working on a stem cell vaccine for mesothelioma and other cancers.

The stem cell vaccine uses induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells, which are a patient’s own cells that are modified in a lab and then injected back into the patient to stimulate an immune response.

According to a 2018 study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the research is still in animal models and not yet tested in humans.

CRS-207 Clinical Trial Halted

Although the CRS-207 vaccine received orphan drug status from the FDA in 2015, a phase II trial of the vaccine was stopped in 2017.

The trial was halted because the vaccine was not working well enough.


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