Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases that arises from our own cells. This creates a very confusing situation for our immune system. To launch an immune response, the body has to be able to tell the difference between cells that are “self” and “non-self.” One reason cancer is so difficult to treat is that it avoids detection because the immune system thinks it is “self.” Without a way for the immune system to tell the difference between a healthy cell and a cancer cell, there is little the body can do to prevent cancer from taking over.
Most tumors express substances on the surface of tumor cells called antigens, which are not made by healthy cells. These antigens vary from patient to patient. So in theory, a personalized therapeutic that targets the unique antigenic profile of each individual patient could potentially offer a promising alternative to a one-size-fits-all approach.
Personalized cancer vaccines are a promising type of immunotherapy. They are considered “personalized” because they are made from a sample of a patient’s tumor and/or blood which contain important information about an individual’s tumor-specific antigens. Personalized cancer vaccines work to boost the immune system’s ability to recognize tumor cells as “non self” and selectively destroy those that match the antigenic profile of a patient’s tumor. These types of vaccines can prevent cancer from coming back as well as find and destroy any cancer cells that might remain in the body after treatment (also known as adjuvant therapy).