Ovarian cancer relapses can be deadly, but a pioneering vaccine that could prevent them has just entered clinical trials at UConn Health. The experimental vaccine, named OncoImmunome, is administered as a simple injection in an outpatient setting.
It works by boosting the patient’s immune response to enable it to destroy ovarian cancer cells so that they do not replicate.
The genetic differences between the surface proteins on a patient’s healthy and cancerous cells constitute the fingerprint of that particular patient’s cancer, which is unlike the fingerprint of any other person’s cancer. Based on these variations, scientists create a personalized vaccine.
“This is the first vaccine of its kind developed for women diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Pramod K. Srivastava, the vaccine’s developer, a leading cancer immunotherapy expert, and director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health. “The personalized vaccine is specifically created using a patient’s own genomics information to prevent an often life-threatening recurrence of the disease and to extend survival.”
There is no early screening test for ovarian cancer. By the time a woman with the disease starts to experience nonspecific abdominal symptoms such as bloating, the disease has often already advanced to stage III or stage IV cancer. Further, there is no effective long-term treatment for ovarian cancer. Even after a woman is successfully treated with traditional surgery and chemotherapy, the disease has a very high recurrence rate within just two years. Tragically, most women die within five years of their diagnosis.
But Srivastava believes that appropriate immunotherapy may stop an ovarian cancer diagnosis from becoming a death sentence.