WASHINGTON – An experimental vaccine implant to treat skin cancer has begun early trials in humans as part of a growing effort to train the immune system to fight tumors, researchers said Friday.
The approach, which was shown to work in lab mice in 2009, involves placing a fingernail-size sponge under the skin, where it reprograms a patient’s immune system cells to find cancerous melanoma cells and kill them.
“It is rare to get a new technology tested in the laboratory and moved into human clinical trials so quickly,” said Glenn Dranoff, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and part of the research team at the university’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
The phase I trial aims to test the safety of the implant in a small number of human patients. After that, the device may move to phase II trials on effectiveness and larger phase III trials before reaching the market.
The implants are made of biodegradable polymer material that is highly permeable and contains antigens that are specific to the kind of tumor being targeted. The device releases a protein that attracts immune system cells and sends them out armed to hunt down and kill tumorous cells.