Leading cancer expert in Fukuoka hopes vaccine-based treatments thrive

Kyodo

After researching cancer vaccines for 20 years, Kyogo Ito in July was appointed first director of the Kurume University Cancer Vaccine Center in Fukuoka Prefecture.

“It will take only three to five more years until we receive government approval (for production and marketing),” said Ito, 65, a leading figure in the field.

Vaccines offer a way to treat the disease with fewer side effects than conventional approaches, such as chemotherapy.

In immunotherapy, patients are administered peptides composed of amino acids which can stimulate and increase the body’s killer T cells, which target and destroy cancer cells.

Cancer vaccines are considered the fourth choice in cancer therapy, following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

But Ito said that “vaccines will move up and stand second in the future,” as they do not attack healthy cells and produce fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

“Even if surgery fails to remove all tumors and the cancer spreads, what we aim for is to help improve patients’ immune systems with vaccines so they can return to their regular life,” he said.

Kurume University administers cancer vaccines to 4,000 patients every year, but since it is not a government-approved entity yet, its treatments are carried out as clinical trials and patients must bear the full cost, which can reach ¥1.3 million. Even so, patients continue to flock to the university for treatment, it says.

Since the Cancer Vaccine Center opened in July, patients have doubled, leaving Ito immersed in treatment and research.

Ito, who earlier had a brush with tuberculosis, said he understands his patients’ ordeals.

“As a survivor, taking care of the patients before me is what I live for.”