-Times Of India (July 30th 1998)

A new era in cancer therapy could be opened later this year with the launch of a vaccine which tackles the disease in a new way and could spell the end of chemotherapy.

Melacine is the first cancer vaccine which has been developed as a treatment for advanced     melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer which claims 2,000 lives a year in the UK.   The drug is expected to win approval from the US Food and Drugs Administration within the next six months after trials in patients showed ‘promising’ results.

A further five or six cancer vaccines are in the pipeline and are expected to be launched within the next two years. Some experts predict that they could spell the end of chemotherapy: treatment with large doses of toxic drugs whose effects can be worse than the disease: and usher in kinder therapies for people with cancer.

 Cancer vaccines are so called because they work by harnessing the body’s immune system to fight the disease. They differ from conventional vaccines because they are given as a treatment rather than to prevent disease.

 They are the first new class of drugs for cancer in a decade since the taxanes were developed in the late 1980s. These include the drugs Taxol, for advanced ovarian cancer, which is derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree and Taxotere, for advanced breast cancer.

 Melanoma is the first cancer for which researchers have identified antigenic molecules on the surface of the cancer cells which act as a trigger for the immune system. Melacine, made by the US biotechnology company Ribi Immunochem, is one of a number of vaccines being developed for melanoma which primes the immune system to recognize the molecules and boosts the immune response to destroy cancer cells.

 Professor Angus Dalgliesh, Director of the Gordon Cancer Vaccine Laboratory at St George’s Hospital, London, said: “Cancer vaccines may well take over from chemotherapy. They will probably knock out chemotherapy.” He said: “Where cancer vaccines are going to work is in cases where a solid tumor is removed and there is a high chance of the cancer coming back. They are the people who will get the vaccine to kick start the immune system. In most cases it will only delay the inevitable but if you can do that with a non-toxic treatment that will be a valuable advance.”


Rejoinder by Dr. Kothari and Dr. Mehta

The above report makes two things clear: (a) The cancer world is tired of chemotherapy, and, (b) Vaccines may replace chemotherapy as a curative measure. This will be for the first time that a vaccine will be used not as a preventive measure, but as a curative one.

 The only snag about the vaccine promise is that it is unlikely to work for 2 reasons: (a) No two cancers, even in the same individual, have ever been alike. Which means you must have a specific vaccine against a specific cancer. Which means you allow a cancer to develop fully, then set about making a vaccine, and then administer it to now kill the cancer. But any given cancer has multiple clones. If the vaccine misses one, then by natural selection, that clone will exert its might to recreate the original mass of the cancer. (b) Supposing the vaccine is effective against all the possible clones that a cancer exhibits, the 100% cancer kill cannot prevent neocanceration of the next normal cell that is waiting to turn cancerous.

                                                        Close Window