Week 98: Barcelona and personalized cancer vaccines (even DIY?)

Written by Lars Haakon Soraas

Week 98 in the war on cancer has passed. It has been a busy week. Here are highlights:

  • Dyanne has done CT and MR scans. We will learn results this coming week.
  • Dyanne has been to Frankfurt to get a new injection of the personalized peptide vaccine.
  • Dyanne has been in pretty good shape, a bit tired and still some balance issues. Stomach issues, however, have gone away.
  • I have been to Barcelona and participated at two lung cancer seminars. The first (and main reason for going there) was organized by Dr Rafael Rosell and his team. Dr Rosell and his colleague, Dr Niki Karachaliou, have helped us tremendously over the last two years. Among the leaders in lung cancer worldwide, they work tirelessly towards a cure for patients. And they take time out of their busy schedules to help patients they are not really responsible for – such as Dyanne. Dr Rosell, Dr Karachaliou and many others in their team are among the unsung heros in this war on lung cancer.
  • Jo Monsen, another caregiver from Norway (his young brother-in-law is a victim of stage IV EGFR positive lung cancer and the Norwegian health care system) and I were invited to give a short talk at the seminar organized by Dr Rosell. A picture of Jo’s very moving talk is attached to this post. In the front of the picture you can see Dr Karachaliou and Dr Rosell. I will try to upload a video of my presentation when we have it ready. In the mean time, here is a link to the presentation itself. My presentation was about how a cure for lung cancer can be sped up.
  • In Barcelona, Jo, I and two other patients/caregivers also joined a two day lung cancer symposium. It was a small event with few participants. However, a lot of the leading lung cancer researchers and doctors in the world were there. A very good place to learn and network.

It has also been an interesting week in terms of research news. On Wednesday this week two very interesting papers were published in Nature. The papers presented results from two small trials which have been done with personalized cancer vaccines (one of the trials tested a vaccine which is very similar to the one Dyanne is receiving in Germany). The results indicate the vaccines are safe, and, even though the trials were small and not randomized, there are promising signs of efficacy. A layman’s summary is given in this news article.

Although it is likely to take many years before such vaccines go through all the hurdles of clinical trials and regulatory approval and eventually reach “mainstream” patients (if they every do), it is in fact already today possible to make your own “do it yourself” (DIY) vaccine. The steps involved are basically the following:

  1. Get hold of some tumor tissue (your local hospital likely has some; FFPE is sufficient).
  2. Send the tissue, together with normal blood, to a company that can do whole exome sequencing (WES) and ask them to sequence both tumor and blood.
  3. Get a company (maybe same as does WES) to select the most promising (i.e. immunogenic) tumor specific mutations and have them also design peptides to match these.
  4. Get a company to produce the peptides.
  5. Inject the vaccine.

There are, needless to say, many other details of the process as well. Many of these details can, however, be found in the recently published Nature papers. There was also another paper published late last year which detailed the steps of making a personalized cancer vaccine. I have put one of the two Nature papers (the one describing a peptide vaccine, which is the easiest to make), and the paper from last year (which also describes a personalized peptide vaccine) in this Dropbox folder in case anyone would like to have a go at it. Note that I am not recommending anyone to make their own DIY cancer vaccine. It will take quite a bit of time (at least 3 months), cost quite a bit of money (I estimate at least €10 000, and probably considerably more), and it will involve a lot of work. Furthermore, for anyone without a doctor or a good biohacker to guide them, it will probably be a too difficult and risky task. That being said, if you find yourself in a death spiral and have the resources, you might consider having a bit of hopeful science fun before throwing in the towel. As a company I know would say: Cure cancer, or die trying.

To life!

Jo Monsen speaking at Dr Rosell cancer research seminar – Barcelona

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