For decades, scientists have been trying to come up with better treatments for mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos-linked cancer with a high mortality rate. Over the past several years, researchers have started looking into a new strategy to fight not only mesothelioma, but other advanced cancers. One new strategy is the development of cancer-fighting vaccines. The ONCOS-102 vaccine is a new mesothelioma vaccine that is being studied on people with various cancers.
How do Vaccines Fight Cancer?
Cancer vaccines work differently from standard chemotherapy, where chemical treatments are given to a person to destroy their cancer cells. Instead, cancer vaccines train the body’s immune system to recognize, attack, and kill cancer cells.
What is ONCOS-102?
ONCOS-102 is a virus that was created by scientists. It is an adenovirus, meaning that it contains DNA. The virus was designed to trigger granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor, or GMCSF, a substance that stimulates the human immune system. As such, ONCOS-102 acts as a cancer-killing mesothelioma vaccine in the immune system.
Does ONCOS-102 work as mesothelioma vaccinee?
Doctors are hopeful that ONCOS-102 works against mesothelioma. A similar vaccine to fight skin cancer was approved by the FDA several years ago. A recent study showed that when people were given ONCOS-102, their mesothelioma did not worsen until 8 to 9 months had passed, compared to under 7 months for people who did not get ONCOS-102.
Other studies also point to ONCOS-102 having potential as an effective agent to fight mesothelioma. In a lab, ONCOS-102 was able to kill mesothelioma cells more effectively than chemotherapy. Further, when combined with chemotherapy, ONCOS-102 and chemotherapy had a synergistic effect, meaning they fought cancer better together than each agent did on its own. Doctors think this may happen because the mesothelioma vaccine ONCOS-102 makes cancer cells more sensitive to attacks from the immune system. Scientists have found that after ONCOS-102 has been given to a person, the person produces more CD8+ T-cells. These cells are white blood cells in the immune system which target and destroy cancer cells. ONCOS-102 also causes the tumor to make more of a substance called PD-L1. PD-L1 is a tumor’s way of trying to block the body’s immune system cells from hurting the tumor. Other drugs can be given to stop tumors from making PD-L1 so the immune system can more easily attack the tumor.
ONCOS-102 is being studied for a variety of other cancers in combination with chemotherapy. Future studies may also try to combine ONCOS-102 with other treatments for mesothelioma, with the hope of making therapy even more effective.
How safe is ONCOS-102?
ONCOS-102 is thought to be safe in humans and is not known to cause any disease. It only multiplies inside cancer cells and does not have an effect in regular cells. It is also not passed from one person to another.
How is ONCOS-102 given?
ONCOS-102 is an injectable treatment. Although it is still being studied, at least one trial consists of giving it to people with mesothelioma at regular intervals. That study is giving ONCOS-102 in cycles. A cycle means that you get a treatment for a certain period, and then you take a break so your body can recover before the treatment is repeated.
In that trial, ONCOS-102 is given in three cycles. The first cycle is meant to prime the immune system, and ONCOS-102 is injected on days 1, 4, 8 and 36 of the cycle. Afterwards, ONCOS-102 is injected twice more at 6-week intervals. Therefore, the last two injections occur on Cycle 2, Day 78, and on Cycle 3, Day 120.
When will ONCOS-102 be available?
ONCOS-102 is still being studied. As such, it is unclear when or if it will be approved as a mesothelioma vaccine. Clinical trials are still ongoing, including a study on ONCOS-102 combined with the standard mesothelioma chemotherapy of cisplatin and pemetrexed. That trial is expected to wrap up in mid-2020, and doctors are eager to learn the results.
If you or a loved one has mesothelioma or has been exposed to asbestos, please consult an attorney to explore the best compensation options.