ARCHIVED - Vaccine breakthrough heralds new cancer treatment

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October 01, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

Some of the world's biggest pharmaceutical players have got their eye on a young Canadian firm with a vaccine technology that could soon be good news for cancer victims. Halifax-based ImmunoVaccine Technologies Inc. (IVT) has developed a vaccine platform called VacciMax ® that could soon become a breakthrough treatment for cervical, breast, ovarian, prostate, colon and lung cancers. The NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) is pleased to have given the company a boost at an important stage of its vaccine development work.

Photo courtesy of: Impact Communications Group Inc. (Halifax).

Photo courtesy of: Impact Communications Group Inc. (Halifax).

Dr. Marc Mansour, Vice-President of R&D at IVT, says its vaccine technology was first developed for animal contraception. "Our core vaccine platform came to life in the 1990s when the researchers who founded IVT were helping the government humanely reduce the local seal population," he recalls. Using a unique formulation, that team created a single-dose contraceptive vaccine that kept seals from reproducing for the full ten years they were monitored.

IVT then turned its attention to protecting livestock from a variety of infectious diseases. Soon, Pfizer Animal Health saw that IVT's single-dose vaccine formulation would dramatically simplify the management of animal health. "We have signed agreements with Pfizer Animal Health to license our technology for use in livestock vaccines," adds Dr. Mansour.

Evidence is mounting that VacciMax® can be used with any antigen. "Whenever we present our results to venture capital firms, they are really excited about its potential," says Dr. Mansour. "But before investing, they want to see success in human clinical trials. So we are focusing on bringing our technology into the clinic as quickly as possible." The technology has broad applicability, so IVT has been exploring its use in hepatitis B, whooping cough and influenza vaccines.

NRC-IRAP recognized a winner when IVT approached it for support in 2003. "NRC-IRAP helped us demonstrate the efficacy of our platform with the seasonal flu vaccine, which was an important step in our current effort to develop an effective vaccine for pandemic influenza," says Dr. Mansour. "Thanks to this support, we were able to demonstrate an immune response that was four times stronger than with conventional influenza vaccines." The results from a single dose for hepatitis and whooping cough were equally impressive.

IVT is now exploring the technology's cancer fighting potential. "Immunotherapy for cancer follows the same principle as prophylactic vaccination, but with cancer you try to raise a different type of immune response," says Dr. Mansour. "The idea is that, if you can teach the immune system to respond strongly to a specific target, you can train it to recognize a cancer and kill it. But we needed to find out if we could do this with VacciMax®."

In 2004, the company launched a division to work on cancer immunology. "The Eureka moment came in our first experiment when we saw that, with a single dose, cervical cancer tumours disappeared in 100 percent of vaccinated mice," he says. "We also tried the formulation with a melanoma model, with the same astonishing results."

The company's next big breakthrough will be to demonstrate the efficacy of VacciMax® in treating cancer in humans. "This is a huge challenge because cancer has immune-regulating mechanisms that shut down the immune system enough to let the cancer grow, undetected," says Dr. Manscour. "We need a really potent vaccine to help the immune system recognize and attack the cancer despite its camouflaging capacity." With no other product in development reporting such pre-clinical success, VacciMax® looks like a very promising candidate. If everything goes according to plan, IVT will conduct its first phase of clinical testing in 2009.

NRC-IRAP is now developing another project with the company, which would bring IVT into a close working relationship with the Halifax facility of the NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics. Perhaps this collaboration will be a stepping stone to the cancer therapy the world has been waiting for.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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