Global trials could save lives by changing treatment procedure for cancer in the future

Researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) are leading ground-breaking global trials which could save lives by changing how we treat cancer in the near future.

ECU Centre for Precision Health Clinical Professor Adnan Khattak presented the trial’s latest results at the 2023 American Society of Oncology (ASCO) congress in Chicago this week, the biggest cancer treatment conference in the world with more than 45,000 attendees.

Professor Khattak outlined how survival and disease recurrence rates among people who’d had high-risk skin cancers (melanomas) removed improved significantly when an mRNA vaccine tailored to suit an individual’s tumor genetics was added to common immunotherapy treatment.

After 18 months, cancer-free survival among patients who received the vaccine and the immunotherapy treatment was 78.6 per cent, compared to 62.2 per cent of those who only received the immunotherapy.

Two years after treatment, only 22.4 per cent of patients who had received the vaccine/immunotherapy combination had either died or seen a recurrence of the disease, which rose to 40 per cent for the immunotherapy-only group.

Overall, after an average of two years those who received the vaccine saw a 44 per cent lower risk of death or melanoma returning to the same area of the body, and a 65 per cent reduction in the risk of death or the cancer returning in a different area of the body.

Crucially, there was no significant increase in rates of adverse side effects.

Professor Khattak said the trial began as a way of trying to address the shortcomings of current treatments.

“The current standard of care is immunotherapy using an antibody known as pembrolizumab. There are two main issues: first, despite having active immunotherapy for stage three melanoma, about half of patients will relapse at five years.”

Adnan Khattak, Precision Health Clinical Professor, ECU Center, Edith Cowan University

“And secondly, it’s a very crude approach: currently if I treat 10 new high risk melanoma patients, I give them the same drug; it’s not rocket science that it’s going to work for some but not others, and some may see side effects and others may not.

“This is the biggest trial to show treatment improves with an individualized approach -; and I think research into personal cancer vaccines is going to increase dramatically after this positive study.”