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DNA vaccine leads to immune responses in HPV-related head and neck cancer

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Posted October 3, 2018

Researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center tested a new immunotherapy approach utilizing a therapeutic vaccine in two groups of patients with advanced head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCCa), and found 86 percent showed elevated T cell activity. It is the first study to show that the vaccine can help immune cells infiltrate tumors.

HNSCCa is a cancer that develops in the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. Smoking and tobacco use are known causes, but the number of cases related to HPV infection—a sexually transmitted infection that is so common, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says almost all sexually active adults will contract it at some point in their lifetimes—is among the fastest growing cancer types. The CDC estimates 70 percent of all head and neck cancers in the United States are now HPV-related. While there are many types of HPV, the HPV 16 and 18 subtypes are most commonly associated with cancer. Many patients with this type of HNSCCa have good outcomes from treatment that includes surgery or chemotherapy and radiation.

“We wanted to know if this vaccine can boost the immune systems of patients with HPV-related head and neck cancer, potentially opening the door for better response rates to other existing therapies, and our findings show that we can,” says the study’s lead author Charu Aggarwalan assistant professor of hematology-oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine.

Researchers published their findings in the Clinical Cancer Research journal.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

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