Are “universal” cancer vaccines feasible and clinically effective?


The idea that we might be able to use a single therapeutic “vaccine” to treat patients with  many different types of cancer is not new … and has yet to be substantiated in any large clinical trial. However, …

A report in today’s Daily Telegraph (and in several other media outlets) discusses a therapeutic vaccine that is supposedly able to “train cancer patients’ own bodies to seek out and destroy tumour cells”. The vaccine has been developed by researchers at Vaxil Biotheraputics and at Tel Aviv University and initially tested by clinicians at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem. There are no data as yet to suggest that it would be effective and safe in the management of prostate cancer.

The vaccine — known as ImMucin — targets a molecule known as mucin 1 or MUC1. MUC1 is found at high levels on the surfaces of cancerous cells in up to 90 percent of all patients with cancer and at much lower levels in the normal cells of healthy patients. There is additional information about ImMucin available in a video on YouTube.

The clinical data available at this time is limited to 10 patients with a cancer known as multiple myeloma, treated in what appears to be a single arm Phase I clinical trial. Apparently, 7/10 patients have completed their treatment and all of them had greater immunity against cancer cells compared to their status before they were given the vaccine. The company has further reported that 3/7 patients are now free of detectable myeloma cells.

The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink notes the currently available data, which is definitely interesting, but we would caution that these data have not been peer-reviewed and are not yet published in a reputable scientific or medical journal. There is a very long way to go before it might become clear whether  ImMucin really can be developed and shown to be safe and effective even in large numbers of patients with multiple myeloma — let alone in other types of cancer.

Among the things that will need to be demonstrated are:

  • Can ImMucin replicate the reported effect in a randomized Phase II trial in patients with multiple myeloma who meet specific clinical criteria?
  • Can ImMucin replicated the reported effect in patients with other types of cancer?
  • Does ImMucin really have limited side effects in the long term (given the presence of MUC1 in on the surfaces of normal cells, albeit at much lower levels)?
  • Can a randomized Phase III clinical trial show a clinically significant effect in patients in a large, randomized, double-blind clinical trial in any cancer?

and then from a prostate cancer point of view

  • Can ImMucin show a clinically significant effect in a well-defined set of patients with prostate cancer in a large, randomized, double-blind clinical trial?

There would seem to be a lot of “ifs” to be overcome before the enthusiasm of the article in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere can be justified by meaningful clinical data.

2 Responses

  1. No doubt there are plenty of vested interests in existing treatment fields and research fields who will work very, very, very hard to make sure this never moves forward.

    Though it does seem like folks with suspected indolent and low-risk cancers would be ethical choices for testing such innovation, having both a lower risk of negative outcomes and remaining opportunity for “curative” treatment post-experimental treatment, those are the very patients our current system likes best to subject to “curative” treatment because keeping them in the total cancer pool makes it appear that existing treatments are effective, regardless of overall consequences to the rest of these patients’ lives, plus opening a market for a lifetime’s worth of post-treatment treatment as the medical profession sells patients all the products, potions, and notions that may or may not be useful in restoring them to some pale imitation of their previous quality of life). …

    Any word on side effects of ImMucin?

  2. Tracy:

    The only data available on the side effects of ImMucin (or the lack thereof) is what I have seen in the article in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere. However, every form of systemic therapy that I am aware of has side effects — and commonly that includes at least one or two rare, serious side effects. There is no free lunch.

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