Banner MD Anderson studies new colon cancer immunotherapy
Next-generation vaccine aims to harness body’s immune system to fight disease

GILBERT, Arizona – Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center recently opened a research study to evaluate a next-generation immunotherapy approach for advanced colon cancer. 

The clinical trial involves a new type of immunotherapy that uses a vaccine made inside the body. The trial combines cryoablation, a method to kill tumor cells using extreme cold, with the injection of bioengineered immune cells derived from the blood of healthy blood donors. This trial is for eligible patients with metastatic colon cancer, or cancer that started in the colon and spread to other parts of the body. 

“Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s immune system to protect and eliminate invading cancer cells. Scientists have suspected for decades that of all the approaches for treating cancer, only immunotherapy has the capability of eventually curing cancer,” said Madappa Kundranda, MD, PhD, Medical Director of Gastrointestinal Oncology and principal investigator of the study at Banner MD Anderson. “This is because only the immune system is capable of destroying every last microscopic cancer cell and then remembering the cancer cells to protect against recurrence. 

While the potential of the immune system to control or cure cancer is becoming increasingly recognized, it has been incredibly difficult to harness this potential and translate it in the clinic. However, enthusiasm for this approach was renewed by the discovery of checkpoint-inhibiting antibodies that release a brake on killer “T cells,” giving them the power to kill tumors and overcome tumor efforts to avoid immune attack. Clinical trial results of this immunotherapy, first in metastatic melanoma and then in a variety of cancers, has demonstrated unprecedented responses for some patients. 

“The majority of patients with metastatic colon cancer do not have a resident immune response within their tumor lesions, which explains why checkpoint blockade strategies have failed to provide any benefit to these patients,” said Dr. Kundranda. “This study is examining the effects of CryoVax as a cancer vaccine, which is designed to generate tumor-specific immune cells in patients when none existed. Further, the treatment regimen also aims to cause the newly created tumor-specific immune cells to infiltrate the tumors, and naturally inhibit checkpoint molecules. These provide the needed ingredients to enable these patients to respond to immunotherapy.”

The CryoVax personalized anti-tumor vaccine combines two methods: killing a single metastatic tumor by cryoablation, causing the release of tumor-specific markers to the immune system. These markers are then targets for bioengineered allogeneic immune cells injected into the lesion, which find and kill cancer cells bearing those markers wherever they reside in the body.  

It’s among several other immunotherapy trials in progress at Banner MD Anderson. To learn more about current clinical trials at the facility, call (480) 440-7458.

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, located on the Banner Gateway campus, delivers cancer care to patients in Arizona through the collaboration of Banner Health and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Banner MD Anderson offers focused disease-specific expertise in the medical, radiation and surgical management of the cancer patient; an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to patient care; access to clinical trials and new investigative therapies; state-of-the-art technology for the diagnosis, staging and treatment of all types of cancer; oncology expertise in supportive care services.