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Data + Drugs = Cures

Our immune system is a complex network of organs, cells and molecules that protects us from harmful foreign substances—such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. This is why unleashing the power of our body’s immune system is a clever way to fight cancer.

The immune system can:

  • Be precise; it can target cancer cells exclusively while sparing healthy cells.
  • Adapt continuously and dynamically; if a tumour avoids detection, the immune system can re-evaluate and launch a new attack.
  • Remember; it can recall what cancer cells look like, and kill the cancer if it returns.

Cancer immunotherapy, also known as immuno-oncology, is the up-and-coming treatment for cancer after surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. For most other types of cancer therapies, there are many side effects and response is often short-lived; but with immunotherapy, there are less side effects and some patients have sustained remission, giving them real hope of a cure.

The 2022 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) showcased new data and insights that offer the potential to expand immunotherapy’s benefits to more people, including those with rare cancers. A number of immunotherapies have been developed, the most promising of which are checkpoint blockade inhibitors, with durable responses reported in many different types of cancers including melanoma, lung and head and neck cancers.

So, where are these cures?

Presently only 1 of 5 patients, on average, respond to checkpoint blockade inhibitors. It is ineffective for some patients because cancer cells can devise multiple ways to hide from the immune system. We need to find effective combination therapies that enable a larger group of cancer patients to have better treatment options resulting in remission. To put this into perspective, only ~13% of cancer patients respond to immunotherapy alone and this could potentially increase to ~45% with the right combination therapy.

That is why Cancer Research Malaysia is designing a cancer vaccine and combining it with immunotherapies (checkpoint blockade inhibitors) to develop better combination therapies for cancers, in particular liver, lung and nasopharyngeal that are prevalent in our country.

Immunotherapy + Vaccine = Reduced tumour growth by 90%

In Malaysia, ~8,000 cases of head and neck cancers were reported from 2007 to 2011, which is 6.8% of all cancer cases, making it the 4th most common cancer among Malaysians. In fact, more than 60% of head and neck cancers occur in Asia.

Based on Cancer Research Malaysia’s pilot studies on head and neck cancers, the combination of checkpoint blockade inhibitor with our made-in-Malaysia, in-house developed cancer vaccine, has resulted in >90% tumour control in research models. Our therapeutic cancer vaccine – an injectable DNA molecule that encodes two unique cancer proteins in head and neck cancers, activates the body’s immune cells, sensitising cancer cells to the immune system and is a nearly clinic-ready solution, that could increase the proportion of patients who successful beat cancer.

From checkpoint to checkmate

Currently, we are completing the final safety studies and formulation studies to prepare the injections suitable for cancer patients, and are on track to test our vaccine in a Phase 1 clinical trial next year.

The patents of these vaccines have been granted in 7 different countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, India, Japan, Indonesia and USA). We have recently filed our patent application for our newest vaccine formulation and examination is on-going. They have been licensed to a UK biotechnology company so that these vaccines can be developed further for clinical use to benefit patients and improve survival rates.

We are excited to be at the forefront of this biomedical advancement, in support of the National Cancer Vaccine Roadmap, to ensure Malaysians’ safety and self-reliance on vaccines developed to treat cancers more commonly found in Asians.

Cancer Research Malaysia is poised to position Malaysia as a recognised player in vaccine and immunotherapeutics through Intellectual Property (IP) generation, product development and capacity building. Ultimately, our goal is to use research to discover biomarkers for the early detection of cancer and to develop novel therapeutic approaches for its prevention and treatment.

Donations enable us to continue our efforts and any amount is truly appreciated. 90% of all funding goes directly to research and you can help ensure the fight against cancer doesn’t miss Asians – especially Malaysians. Together, we can #reversecancer.

On the Donation page, under Step 3 > How did you hear about us? Please select ‘Blogpost’ from the dropdown options.


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