Local team makes first prostate cancer candidate vaccine

MIRACULOUS MICE::A preliminary test of the candidate vaccine on mice showed that it can induce the production of cancer-fighting antibodies

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Aug 11, 2013 - Page 1

It may soon be possible to innoculate against prostate cancer, according to the results of research conducted by an Academia Sinica team on carbohydrate-based vaccines.

The research team, led by Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) and Associate Research Fellow Wu Chung-yi (吳宗益) of the Genomics Research Center (GRC), has developed a candidate prostate cancer vaccine based on research published in 2005 by Japan’s Tohoku University’s urology research department showing that the amount of RM2 antigen increases as the cancer progresses.

Antigens are foreign substances that stimulate immunoligical responses.

The team said that cell surfaces are coated with sugar structures (glycans or carbohydrates), and the way these structures are expressed on the cell surface differs depending on the well-being of the cells — whether they are normal cells or diseased cells such as cancer cells.

While “the differences in these sugar structures help diseased cells evade attacks from host immune systems and make diseases more deadly,” they can also function as indicators for the identification of the diseased cells. This could help advance the development of early cancer detection tools and anti-bacterial or anti-cancer vaccines, according to the team.

The RM2 antigen, a tumor-associated carbohydrate antigen, is therefore “an excellent biomarker for prostate cancer staging and a good starting point for developing prostate cancer vaccine,” the team said.

“We are the first [researchers] in the world to have successfully synthesized the complex glycan molecule and made a vaccine candidate out of it,” Wu said.

“In an experiment conducted on mice, we found that the vaccine candidate can induce effective, specific antibodies to eradicate prostate cancer cells in the rodents,” Wu said.

The research findings were published last month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and have been transferred to a biotech company for further development.

The candidate vaccine could be brought to clinical trials in three to five years, following the completion of the required animal testing stages, the team said.