Breast cancer vaccines may be a reality sooner than we think

Sep 30, 2014 at 12:10 p.m. ET
Image: Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

Could it really be — a vaccine for breast cancer? Kind of.

Yes, this is happening: Next year, a breast cancer vaccine trial will begin. Also slated for 2015 is the trial for an injectable skin cancer treatment.

Both tests are happening in Australia, and will be conducted by Ascend, a biotech company that is based in Melbourne. The company will soon be listed on the country's stock market, and will use money from investors to fund the trials. They need about $11 million.

The treatments are both immunotherapies, so they encourage the body's immune system to fight the cancer.

The breast cancer vaccine is geared for patients who already have undergone surgery and are in early stages of the disease. The vaccine isn't preventative, but is given after surgery to strengthen the immune system to stop the cancer from returning or spreading. It also could give hope for early-stage breast cancer patients that experience the disease returning after surgery. Typically, patients receive hormone therapy after surgery, but that only works for about a year.

"This is a big opportunity," said Dr. Clement Leong, the company's chief executive. "There's about half a million people worldwide that are seeking a non-surgical form of treatment."

Earlier trials showed that the cancer returned in just 6 percent of patients 10 years after surgery in those that had been vaccinated.

"We think during that 10-12 months, when the cancer is being controlled, is a nice opportunity to vaccinate," Leong said.

The skin cancer treatment is directly injected into basal cell carcinomas. And how's this for sounding simple: The drug is a genetically modified type of common cold virus that works by cutting off blood supply to the skin cancer. The trial is set for February, and results are expected by the middle of 2015.

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