New kidney cancer vaccine shows promise

In the current edition of Nature Medicine, researchers at the University of Tübingen and immatics biotechnologies GmbH report on the results of two clinical trials testing the kidney cancer vaccine IMA901.

The vaccine, which is composed of ten synthetic tumor-associated peptides (TUMAPs), is used to treat individuals suffering from kidney cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, the vaccine works by triggering the body’s own killer T-cells to attack the tumor. According to results from the studies, this active immunization against cancer can be effective and prolong a kidney cancer patients life with considerably less adverse effects than chemotherapy.

Professor Dr. Hans-Georg Rammensee, head of Immunology at the University of Tübingen and co-founder of immatics biotechnologies, explained:

“This work is a milestone in the development of cancer immune therapies. The principle applied here – of active immunization against cancer antigens previously identified in cancer cells – can be used against practically all types of cancer. University of Tübingen researchers have published similarly successful clinical studies in the case of bowel cancer, also in collaboration with immatics, and prostate cancer. Immatics is currently carrying out studies on treatments for glioblastoma [a common and malignant brain tumor] and further studies for treating liver cancer and ovarian carcinoma are in the pipeline.”

Professor Dr. Arnulf Stenzl, head of Urology at the University Hospitals, who supervised the clinical studies, said:

“All of the medications previously used have brought about a clear improvement in reducing tumor growth in cancer of the kidneys, but they did not lead to the desired extension of the patient’s life and certainly did not cure the patient. So from the clinical point of view, the further development by immatics of active immunization in combination with a low dose of one-off chemotherapy is a significant step in the treatment of kidney cell carcinoma- and possible other malignant tumors as well.”

With the help of biomarkers the team conducted a unique analysis of the immune response against the cancer antigens. The researchers also detailed the precise characteristics of the white blood cells involved during the course of immunization. Complex logistics were needed in order to get these cells frozen and transported to Tübingen from study centers all over Europe, while making sure they were in a fit state to be analyzed.

Results show a clear association between the immune reaction and clinical progress in kidney-cancer patients with documented T-cell reactions against 2 or more tumor-associated peptides. According to the researchers, their results confirm the theory that cancer treatments can be developed further by triggering the immune system to attack target structures on the surface of the tumor.

Furthermore, their findings could help provide a more precise predication of how long patients may survive after receiving the vaccination. The team are currently testing a number of potential biomarkers in a new phase III trial by immatics for their ability to show an immune response and the extension of patient life following treatment with the vaccine.