Cancer, Health Research

Cancer “Vaccine” by Stanford University Researchers puts the Limelight on Immunotherapy


For everyone seeking to eradicate cancer in the near-future, this is great news. The most recent groundbreaking discovery in immunotherapy developed by researchers at Stanford is a cancer “vaccine” with a near-100 percent effectiveness.

The following facts can help you better understand the basics of the new study and its potential for success in future cancer therapy.

Breaking down the research at Stanford

The human immune system fights infections and diseases by activating cells called T-lymphocytes (or T-cells). But when a patient gets cancer, the immune system becomes overwhelmed and paralyzed, which prevents the immune system from fighting the tumor.

For decades, we’ve known that T-cells can stop tumor growth. This knowledge has led to milestones in the study of a sub-type of T-cells called regulatory T-cells, also known as Treg cells. Now, the goal of many cancer immunotherapy studies is to reactivate and mobilize the body’s own T-cells to fight tumors.

In the cancer immunotherapy research at Stanford, Sagiv-Barfi et al. did the following:

  1. They tested two single agents for mobilizing T-cells. The names of the agents are toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) ligand and anti-OX40 antibody. These two agents are already individually approved for safety by the FDA.
  2. Using mice, they planted two tumors derived from the same genetic background (syngeneic tumors) at two different locations.
  3. They injected a combination of the agents (combination of unmethylated CG–enriched oligodeoxynucleotide, i.e. CpG)  into one of the tumors. This process is called in-situ vaccination.
  4. The immune response was tracked by observing the effect of the agents on the second tumor far away from the first tumor. Therefore, it was concluded that the CpG triggered a T-cell immune response that attacked the cancer cells both near and far away from the injection site.
  5. All traces of cancer were completely removed in 87 out of 90 of the mice. Astonishing success!

The clinical trial in humans: what happens next?

The clinical trial at the Cancer Institute of Stanford School of Medicine began in January 2018. The early clinical trial only enrolled patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

What is NHL? NHL is a type of cancer that affects the lymphocytes, also known as the white blood cells, a group of cells that help the immune system to fight off infections and diseases. If not treated, NHL can spread to other parts of the lymph system and, eventually, other parts of the body.

The researchers are being careful to emphasize that the clinical trial in humans is still in the very early phases. The next phase of the trial is to seek approval for a combination of the two agents, TLR9 ligand and anti-OX40 antibody. Note that both agents have been approved by the FDA for safety as individual agents, but the Stanford researchers are currently seeking approval to combine the agents into one.

What Does This Mean for Cancer Patients?

The Phase I clinical trial for patients is not yet open to the public. However, when it opens, only patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who meet strict eligibility criteria will be able to apply.

What similar immunotherapy is currently available? 

Cancer treatments are no longer only restricted to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Thanks to the innovation of immunotherapy, cancer patients now have more options.

While the clinical trial for CpG is in its early phase, there is another similar approach on the market known as adoptive cell transfer (ACT), with the most advanced type of ACT being CAR T-cell therapy. You can learn more about CAR T-cell therapy HERE.

We hope that the researchers at Stanford, as well as others, continue to make progress as they seek FDA approval for CpG.