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Personalised cancer vaccines are finally beating hard to treat tumours

Some cancers are being treated with vaccines tailored to the genetic make-up of an individual’s tumours, a strategy that is looking increasingly hopeful

Health



22 June 2022

Shutterstock / molibdenis

WHEN Mark Lashway found out that his melanoma skin cancer had spread to his lungs, he immediately quit his job as a chemistry teacher in Hillsdale, New York, and prepared for the worst. “I knew the survival rate was only 15 per cent and I was frightened. It was the realisation of like, ‘Holy cow, is this it?’,” he says.

Seven years later, the 67-year-old is now seemingly cancer-free after becoming one of the first people in the world to receive a personalised cancer vaccine – one that was designed just for him so that his immune system could attack and destroy the unique biology of his tumours. “I had these three lung tumours that were so big I could see them and feel them – one was protruding out of my back,” he says. “Then a few months later [after treatment], I’m waiting for my results and my oncologist comes in and says, ‘I’ve got the best news a doctor can tell you – you’ve had a 100 per cent response.’ The tumours were all gone.”

Lashway is now one of a few hundred cancer patients who have received personalised vaccines as part of several clinical trials. Other participants have also had remarkable responses, even some with cancers that would be hard to treat conventionally. “I would say these vaccines are the next big thing,” says Adilia Hormigo at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who has used them to treat some people with a notoriously deadly brain cancer known as glioblastoma.

We have long known that the immune system naturally tries to fight cancer, but it is often outsmarted by cancer’s …