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Vaccines unique to each patient and cancer are being tested at the CHUV

Life sciences

1 March 2022

Two clinical trials on anti-cancer vaccines have just started at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV). Their groundbreaking nature could revolutionize oncology research.

Employing 180 people, the CHUV’s Center for Experimental Therapy aims to support the development of innovative therapies. Today, the Center will start two clinical trials against lung and pancreatic cancers, and a third against ovarian cancers later this year.

In recent years, immunotherapies have gained considerable momentum as new forms of cancer treatment. Their main function is to stimulate immune responses against tumors, especially against mutations that accumulate in tumor cells. But these mutations are extremely specific and vary from patient to patient.

Using advanced sequencing tools, the CHUV team can develop fully personalized vaccines to train the immune system’s killer cells to attack tumors by targeting personal mutations, unique to each patient.

This approach challenges the current methods used, because these treatments are not developed by pharmaceutical companies, but by the CHUV itself in a laboratory located in the Lausanne branch of the Ludwig Institute.

Sequencing technologies and algorithms for a personalized vaccine

Cancer vaccines aim to create and amplify T-cell (killer white blood cell) responses as cancer cells develop various mechanisms to make themselves invisible to the immune system.

Thanks to the availability of next-generation sequencing technologies and the development of bioinformatics algorithms, researchers now have the tools to identify and select the many proteins generated by cancer mutations on the cell’s surface.

These proteins are potential targets for T-cells that have learned to recognize them with a vaccine. Moreover, most of the targets derived from mutations are specific not only to a type of cancer, but also to a patient. Dubbed neo-antigens, these ultra-specific targets are those targeted by the vaccines developed at the CHUV.

Following the biopsy of a patient’s tumor cells, sequencing technologies and algorithms will be able to predict the neo-antigens that will trigger the best immune response.

However, personalizing vaccines means making individual dendritic cells and peptide mixtures for each patient. To produce them, the CHUV has built a clean room that meets industry standards in order to produce personalized cellular vaccines at high throughput and, henceforth, personalized peptides as well. The investment amounts to CHF 18 million.