A remarkable new treatment for breast cancer has helped save the life of the 69-year-old patient Susan Young, according to City of Hope. The treatment involves a p53 breast cancer vaccine and a medication that stops a cancer-causing protein in its tracks.
Young suffered from a late-stage triple-negative breast cancer with metastasized tumors in the bones and skin. The experimental treatment, specifically the breast cancer vaccine, was the patient’s last hope since the chemotherapies Young underwent did not cure the disease.
“At least 60 to 70 percent of her body was covered by lesions, inflammation and thickened, purplish skin,” explained Yuan Yuan, M.D., breast cancer oncologist at City of Hope. “Six weeks into her treatment, the skin lesions were gone, her itchiness went away. It’s quite a dramatic response.”
The patient received the p53 breast cancer vaccine and the drug pembrolizumab. The cancer vaccine has underwent clinical trials since 2010 to check its effectiveness on both ovarian cancer and other tumors including in the pancreas and gastrointestinal tract. Young underwent six out of seven pembrolizumab infusions as well as three breast cancer vaccine injections.
This particular breast cancer vaccine targets the p53 gene, which has the most common mutation across all cancers. This vaccine stimulates the immune system to respond to the mutation, City of Hope stated. A 2013 clinical trial found the vaccine safe for use in patients with gastrointestinal cancer.
Patients with high levels of the PD1 protein, however, did not respond as well to this cancer vaccine. As such, the PD1 inhibitor cancer drug pembrolizumab was used to strengthen the immune system, which then removed cancerous cells from the body.
Young was the first patient to respond this well to the cancer vaccine and drug combination treatment, according to her physicians. The skin tumors responded quickly and no cancer has been present in the latest biopsies. More CT scans and diagnostics will need to be completed before seeing whether the tumors in her bones decreased in size.
The researchers are now looking to begin a clinical trial among triple-negative breast cancer patients to see whether the vaccine and the drug combination would cure the disease.
“Everything is turning around for me,” Young said. “I was very frightened when I started out. I’m not that frightened anymore. I know it still can turn for me, but I think I’m going to be a miracle.”
The Breast Health and Healing Foundation supports the prevention of breast cancer and has worked to increase awareness of a breast cancer vaccine created by Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Vincent Tuohy and his team shown to prevent the disease in 100 percent of all mice tested.
After gaining the funding necessary for clinical trials, the Cleveland Clinic created a spin-off company Shield Biotech to develop a safe and effective preventive breast cancer vaccine. Any donations made to the Breast Health and Healing Foundation go straight toward research on a breast cancer virus and the Cleveland Clinic vaccine.