4 Min Read
Last Updated: 02/02/2024
Fact Checked

Written by Karen Selby, RN | Medically Reviewed By Dr. Andrea Wolf | Edited By Walter Pacheco

What Are Vaccines?

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 infections so you don’t get sick.

syringe filling with vaccine dosage

Researchers are developing vaccines to treat cancer in addition to preventing it. Cancer vaccines either prevent cancer development or treat 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 people 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 several preventative cancer vaccines, such as the HPV vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer and the hepatitis B vaccine, which 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, or stop cancer cells from growing and spreading.

Cancer vaccines target antigens, 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 regularly.

What Clinical Trials Are Testing Mesothelioma Vaccines?

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

For example, a clinical research trial launching in 2021 called NIPU is a phase II study testing second-line nivolumab and ipilimumab with UV1, a telomerase vaccine in patients with inoperable malignant pleural mesothelioma. Almost 120 participants will receive treatment until disease progression, unacceptable toxicity or for a maximum of 2 years.

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.

Young scientist reviewing sample under a microscope
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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 from the FDA in 2016. The orphan drug program facilitates approval for drugs promising to treat rare conditions.

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

Stem Cell Vaccine for Mesothelioma

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

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

According to a 2018 study published in Cell Stem Cell, the research is still in animal models and has not yet been 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 vaccine trial was stopped in 2017.

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

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