What role do peptide vaccines play in the in the development of novel cancer therapies?
Therapeutic vaccines are administered to sick patients to cure or alleviate a diagnosed disease. The immune response is directed against self-antigens. From the peptide vaccines, cancer vaccines are the most investigated ones. They are designed to activate B-cells and killer T-cells to recognize cancer cells as foreign agents. Cancer cells differentiate from healthy cells by their surface protein modifications such as phosphorylations and glycosylations which make them a good target for the immune system. Fragments from these modified proteins (epitopes) are used to trigger the immune response.
The concept of designing immunomodulating peptide cocktails and trigger the immune response has been mainly initiated by biotech companies who owns more than 80% of the current cancer vaccine pipeline. Multiple biotechnology companies are developing peptide vaccines (e.g. Ac Immune, Anergis, Ultimovacs, CellDex, Circassia, Immune Targeting Systems, Immatics, Gliknik, ISA Pharmaceuticals, etc). There are various cancer peptide vaccines in clinical trials and some of them reaching late stage clinical investigation, thus, the concept is now attracting big pharma players as well. Besides their low toxicity, peptide vaccines offer multiple advantages such as an increase in the specificity and longevity of the immune response, which leads to significant cost-saving compared to conventional therapies. Furthermore, cancer is a dynamic disease associated with mutations that render conventional drugs less effective. Vaccines could overcome the mutation barrier by using appropriate epitopes from proteins (over-)expressed in cancer cells, thus triggering the immune response against cancer cells despite the mutations.
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