12 August 2015
Pioneering vaccine brings hope to breast cancer victims
Scientists have identified a potential 'therapeutic target' for
a form of breast cancer which is particularly difficult to treat,
according to research published today.
It is hoped the study - involving Nottingham University
Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH), Nottingham Trent University and The University
of Nottingham - may pave the way for a new vaccine to treat
patients with 'triple negative breast cancer' (TNBC).
The findings, reported in the journal Clinical Cancer
Research, show how the presence of a cancer-specific protein
appears to predict how well patients with TNBC will respond to
chemotherapy. As a result, it could help spare some of these
patients from undergoing unnecessary treatment - which can carry
serious side-effects - when their response is expected to be
TNBC affects 12% of the 1.4 million newly-diagnosed breast
cancer cases each year. There are very limited treatment options
because this form of cancer does not express any of the three
protein markers that are required for conventional targeted
therapies to work.
The Nottingham study focused on the 'HAGE' molecule, which is
known for its ability to drive cancer - and for its capacity to
trigger immune responses.
The research team analysed tumour tissue from more than 1,000
patients with TNBC, who had or had not received some form of
The study showed that patients who expressed high levels of the
HAGE protein - but who hadn't received chemotherapy - were at a
much higher risk of dying from their disease, when compared to
those who did not express the protein.
Patients who expressed HAGE and received anthracycline-based
chemotherapy, meanwhile, were at a lower risk of death than those
who did not express the protein.
The scientists also found that the expression of the protein was
linked to the presence of immune cells (lymphocytes) infiltrating
the tumours. These cells have the potential to attack tumour cells
and their presence has been associated with better clinical
outcomes in a number of cancer settings.
The immunogenic qualities of HAGE and its high protein
expression in tumours have prompted the researchers to propose that
HAGE provides a basis on which to generate a new therapeutic
vaccine for TNBC and develop a combined chemotherapy/vaccine
approach for its treatment.
"This is the first study to identify HAGE expression as a
promising prognostic biomarker for triple negative breast cancer,
and suggests the protein can predict benefit for chemotherapy
patients," said Professor Robert Rees, the Director of the John van
Geest Cancer Research Centre at Nottingham Trent University.
He said: "There is an urgent need for individualised therapy for
TNBC patients. The immunogenic potential of HAGE and its high
protein expression in tumours, compared to normal tissue, could
make it an ideal target for a vaccine."
Professor Stephen Chan, Consultant Oncologist at NUH - and a
visiting professor at Nottingham Trent University added: "The
management of TNBC remains a major clinical challenge and is
hindered by the inability of these tumours to respond to
traditional therapies. We have highlighted the discovery of a
protein which may be of significance in stratifying patients for
"Given the HAGE protein's immunogenic qualities, we should
consider targeting it along with other cancer specific antigens for
immunotherapeutic intervention, in conjunction with
The study involved the John van Geest Cancer Research Centre at
Nottingham Trent University, the Clinical Oncology Department at
Nottingham University Hospitals and the School of Medicine at The
University of Nottingham.
Click here to read Nottingham Post's