“A major energy boost for the entire cancer vaccine field”

The development of cancer vaccines has accelerated in recent years. Norwegian Ultimovacs is one of the companies attempting to develop a new type of treatment line for cancer patients, and the company recently presented positive data from a phase II study.

“We are very excited about the results. There is so much going on in this field right now,” says Sara Mangsbo, Chief Innovation Officer at Ultimovacs and researcher at Uppsala University, to Life Science Sweden.

UV1, the vaccine developed by Ultimovacs, is a peptide-based vaccine that targets the enzyme telomerase, which is widely expressed in several types of cancer. The enzyme is linked to the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. The vaccine aims to train T-cells to recognise the enzyme and trigger an immune response.

“The aim is to help the body by telling it that this is something the body should react to and try to remove,” says Sara Mangsbo and continues:

“In cancer vaccines, checkpoint inhibitors have usually been excluded in the past, and the difference is that now we include them. In this way, we can add an extra possibility to maintain the activity of the trained T-cells to make them work longer.”

In Ultimovac’s phase II study presented earlier this month, the vaccine was tested in patients with the rare but aggressive cancer form mesothelioma, which Life Science Sweden previously reported. The results showed a 27% reduction in the risk of mortality in patients who received the cancer vaccine plus two checkpoint inhibitors. The study has not yet been published, but the results were presented last week at the Esmo Madrid Cancer Congress.

“We obviously want to keep monitoring this further as this is early data,” says Sara Mangsbo.

However, the study is just one of a number of clinical trials the company is conducting with UV1.

“We are running five phase II trials right now, including a study in malignant melanoma in which we have just completed enrollment and are still awaiting data. This study is also testing the vaccine in combination with checkpoint inhibitors.”

Unlike most preventive vaccines, cancer vaccines are primarily intended to be used as a form of treatment. Developments have progressed in recent years, and the major advances in mRNA vaccines, among others, offer hope. Biontech, the developer of the first authorised vaccine against COVID-19 in the EU, was founded with the aim of developing vaccines against cancer. Earlier this year, Moderna and Merck & Co. also published positive results from a study of their cancer vaccine candidate based on mRNA technology.

Sara Mangsbo finds that combining vaccines with checkpoint inhibitors is an exciting development.

“What has happened recently is that we are starting to get results on the thesis that vaccines and checkpoint inhibitors work excellently together, which has generated a major energy boost for the entire cancer vaccine field.”

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