Innovation | Cancer Vaccine

Olga Kharif

Form and function

Creating antibodies capable of blocking the protein most cancer cells use to hide themselves from a body’s immune system.

Innovator Irving Weissman

Age 73

Title Stanford Medical School director of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine

“Cancer can’t succeed so long as it’s being eaten.”

1. Cloaking device Cancer cells avoid attack by the immune system by using don’t-eat-me proteins.

Market The global market for cancer-treating drugs likely topped $75 billion last year, according to researcher Visiongain.

2. Unmasked Customized antibodies stick to and deactivate the don’t-eat-me proteins, so immune system cells can detect and engulf the cancer.

Early tests The drug has stopped or reversed leukemia and breast cancer in mice.

3. Info sharing Immune system cells then share pieces of the cancer with so-called killer T cells, which seek and destroy even more cancer cells.

Risks Drugs that work in mice often aren’t as effective in humans and may have side effects.

Next Steps

Pending another $30 million or so in grants, U.S. and U.K. human trials are slated for next year. If successful, Stanford plans to license the vaccine to a private company for sale within “a couple of years,” Weissman says. He’s received a $20 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, on the condition that the drug be provided at near cost to state residents who can’t afford it.


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