There’s no doubt that cancer is one of the world’s most vicious diseases. For decades, scientists have been trying to find a cure for cancer, a terminal illness that kills 8 million people worldwide every year. With 14 million new cancer cases diagnosed around the globe every year, according to the World Health Organization, the need for prevention is vital. Now, an Israeli biotechnology company is developing a vaccine for cancer, which is not designed to treat the disease – but to prevent it from returning.
Vaxil BioTherapeutics, based in Nes Ziona, Israel, has spent over half a decade developing ImMucin, a prophylactic cancer vaccine, which can trigger a response in about 90 percent of all types of cancer, according to the company.
Immunotherapy: A hybrid cross between a vaccine and a drug
“Vaxil is developing a drug to keep the cancer from coming back,” Julian Levy, Vaxil’s CFO, tells NoCamels.com. “We are trying to harness the natural power of the immune system to fight against cancer by seeking out cancer cells and destroying them.”
Levy explains that ImMucin is not a replacement for traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. Rather, the company is targeting a different stage in the patient’s battle against cancer, specifically the early stages of the detection, as well as during remission. That’s why, unfortunately, the drug won’t be helpful to many cancer patients – specifically those who are in advanced stages of the disease – because it requires a relatively healthy body to be fully effective.
Even though ImMucin is a vaccine, it is given to people who are already sick, unlike traditional vaccines. So, while ImMucin’s scientific mechanism is one of a vaccine, from the point of view of the patient, it acts exactly like a drug that has physiological effects when introduced to the body.
“Many preventative cancer vaccines today are not actual vaccines against cancer,” Levy says. “Young women can take a vaccine for the HPV virus, which doesn’t combat cancer; it’s a vaccine against a virus that has been proven to lead to a more serious cervical cancer.”
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Training the immune system to attack cancerous cells
ImMucin works by stimulating a part of the immune system and teaching it to attack certain cells with certain markers that indicate the presence of cancer. When the drug is introduced during an early stage of cancer, the hope is that as a patient’s cancer begins to creep back, the immune system is trained appropriately to know which cells to destroy and which to leave be.
This immune response has been consistent throughout Vaxil’s clinical trials on the vaccine over the past few years. The company ran trials exclusively on Multiple Myeloma patients until January 2014, when it began trials on breast cancer patients.
Vaxil’s current switch from successful myeloma trials to breast cancer trials would certainly turn some heads in the biotech community. That’s because typically, when a drug has this much success on a certain type of cancer, a company would provide more resources to finish the trials (through Phase III) and get it to market – it wouldn’t delve into new projects.
Vaxil’s most recent valuation is just under $3 million. In the US, clinical trials and ongoing research and development can cost hundreds of millions of dollars per drug, and it’s very possible that Vaxil doesn’t have the cash to push ImMucin to the market at this point. However, Levy is confident that ImMucin will be on the market by the end of this decade.
Vaxil BioTheraputics has promising technology and initial clinical success, especially since ImMucin has the potential to treat 90 percent of cancers found in patients. Certainly, this kind of immunotherapy for an illness previously thought of as incurable, gives hope to millions of patients and their families.