Vaccine ‘nanodiscs’ could personalize cancer immunotherapy

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new way to customize therapeutic vaccines for the treatment of colon cancer and melanoma. The technology revolves around “nanodiscs,” which are tiny, synthetic high-density lipoproteins that are loaded up with genetic material from individual patients. The nanodiscs essentially train patients’ immune systems to recognize and kill their cancers.

Each nanodisc contains patient-specific tumor neoantigens, which are genetic mutations in tumor cells, according to a press release. When given as a vaccine, the nanodiscs prompt the immune system to generate cancer-killing T cells that are preprogrammed to recognize the specific tumor in that patient’s body.

To test the technology, the researchers combined the vaccine with checkpoint inhibitors and tested it in mice with melanoma and colon tumors. The treatment destroyed the tumors within 10 days in most of the animals, they said. When they reintroduced the same tumor cells to the mice after 70 days, the cancer was rejected by their immune systems and no new tumors emerged.

"This suggests the immune system 'remembered' the cancer cells for long-term immunity," said Rui Kuai, a doctoral student in pharmaceutical sciences and lead author, in the release. The study was published in the journal Nature Materials.

Initial results are so promising that the University of Michigan has spun off a biotech company to further develop the nanodisc vaccines. The company, called EVOQ Therapeutics, will perform further animal studies and then move the technology into clinical trials, according to the university.

EVOQ will be combining two of the hottest pursuits in oncology research: immunology and personalization. Researchers continue to fine-tune methods for using genetic data to improve cancer treatments. Scientists at the University of California in San Diego, for example, are looking at blocking two genetic pathways, ERK1/2 and ERK5, that affect some colon cancer patients. And researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered a link between microRNA and melanoma metastasis and are identifying chemical compounds that can interrupt the spread of the disease.