Cancer vaccines are being investigated in early-phase clinical trials around the world, with many of those trials recruiting patients with melanoma. Although tumour regressions have been seen in 10% to 20% of patients with metastatic melanoma, the great promise of cancer vaccines - controlling tumour growth and cancer spread without serious side-effects - remains as yet unrealised. This could be set to change with the publication of a new mouse model technology from a multi-national team led by investigators at the Brussels Branch of the international Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR).

“Melanoma has been a focus of cancer vaccine development because many melanoma-specific vaccine targets, so-called ‘cancer antigens’, have been defined,” says the study’s senior author, LICR’s Dr. Benoit Van den Eynde. “However, we have a limited understanding of how most, but not all, melanomas evade an immune system that has been primed to detect and destroy cancer cells carrying one of these defined cancer antigens.”

According to Dr. Van den Eynde, this is due in part to the lack of appropriate animal models in which detailed immunological analyses can be performed before and after vaccination. “The models we use to investigate cancer vaccines at the preclinical level either have a defined cancer antigen in a transplanted tumour, or they have an ‘original’ tumour that doesn’t have a defined antigen. However, in human clinical studies, we have original tumours with defined antigens. So there has been a need for a mouse model that more closely follows the human model.”

Thus the Institute has developed a model in which melanoma with a defined cancer antigen can be induced. The model has been engineered to have several mutations found to occur together in human melanoma, and so closely mimics the genetic profile of cancers treated in the clinic.; Source: Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research