Another fundamental problem that anti-cancer vaccines manage to solve is tumour specificity. Traditional cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, suffer from non-specificity and often harm healthy cells alongside cancer cells. This problem is also known as off-target effects. As a result, such cancer therapy modalities are notorious for their toxic side effects, such as vomiting, cognitive impairments and fertility problems.
Anti-cancer vaccines, however, circumvent this non-specificity issue by honing in on tumour antigens, which are unique to the tumour involved. This approach minimises collateral damage to healthy cells. For example, in the Sipuleucel-T and T-VEC clinical trials, the side effects documented were usually mild flu-like symptoms without any fatal side effects.
Due to their exceptional specificity, anti-cancer vaccines could reshape personalised cancer therapy. Scientists are currently developing anti-cancer vaccines using resected tumour tissues from patients. This method allows the identification of tumour antigens unique to each patient, which are then used to design personalised anti-cancer vaccines.
If successful, this strategy could be a breakthrough in overcoming tumour heterogeneity. Even among patients with the same cancer, their tumours often display distinct behaviours and mutation profiles. This diversity is one reason treatment results usually vary from one patient to another. Therefore, by targeting patient-specific tumour antigens, personalised anti-cancer vaccines offer an ingenious approach to stimulate the patient’s immune system to fight their specific cancer.
In conclusion, anti-cancer vaccines mark a profound shift in cancer therapy, harnessing vaccinology’s principles to deliver more effective, personalised and less harmful therapies. As research continues to advance, the potential of anti-cancer vaccines to revolutionise cancer therapy is becoming a reality, representing a significant milestone in medical science.