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In Toulouse, France, a patient receives a personalized vaccine to treat his cancer

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At the Toulouse Oncopole University Cancer Institute, a new milestone in research has just been reached. A patient with head and neck cancer received a dose of a personalized vaccine. This individualized immunotherapy is a first in France and Europe.

Photo: The development in a Transgene laboratory (specializing in viral immunotherapy) of the individualized vaccine, administered to a first patient in Toulouse on January 15, 2021. This is a first in France and Europe. • © Transgene

On January 15, a patient suffering from head and neck (ENT) cancer was able to benefit from the very first individualized vaccine TG4050, developed by the French biotech Transgene.

Photo: The first individualized vaccine was developed by Transgene, specialized in biotechnology and based in Strasbourg. • © Transgene

In cancerology, immunotherapies consist of modifying the functioning of the immune system to allow it to recognize and destroy tumor cells. However, each tumor has its own biological profile, the equivalent of a molecular identity card.

« Tailor-made » immunotherapy

The principle of individualized immunotherapy TG4050 works much like the « facial recognition » of a smartphone, allowing cancer cells to be identified and destroyed. This is to allow the immune system to trigger a defensive reaction as with any conventional vaccine. Except that in this specific case, the vaccine is adapted to the patient and therefore unique. The patient’s immune system is informed very precisely about the molecular identity of the tumor since it is told about thirty neoantigens to identify. These are placed on the surface of cancer cells.

A scientific feat

Three billion pieces of data were analyzed to design this personalized vaccine in just three months, the time for the patient to undergo an operation and radiation therapy sessions. Designing a personalized treatment in such a short time frame is possible using mathematical models.

The program developed in Toulouse with Transgene makes it possible to sequence the tumor genome and normal cells, i.e. 3 billion data sets in total, then it involves selecting 30 neo-antigens using artificial intelligence.

Toulouse at the forefront of oncology research

This first phase 1 clinical trial was conducted on a first patient at the IUCT-Oncopole by Prof. Jean-Pierre Delord, Director General of the Toulouse Oncopole University Cancer Institute, in collaboration with Prof. Christophe Le Tourneau from the Institut Curie in Paris. It is being launched in patients newly diagnosed with HPV negative (i.e. papillomavirus negative) head and neck cancer, locally advanced and who have been treated with surgery.

Photo: Professor Jean-Pierre Delord conducted this first clinical trial at the Oncopole in Toulouse • © IUCT-Oncopole

“Several strategies are still the subject of clinical investigations to prevent recurrence of non-viral-induced head and neck cancers”, explains Professor Jean-Pierre Delord. “The TG4050’s approach is original and is based on a very innovative design-manufacturing process. It has just been demonstrated that it is possible to provide individualized immunotherapy within 3 months. With Prof. Maha Ayyoub, immunologist, and the clinical research unit, we are closely observing the progress of the trial and hope to prove the triggering of an immune response.”

In the world, there are few advanced centers in this field. There is the Institut Curie in Paris, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is located in the state of Texas in the United States, and the Institut Universitaire du Cancer de Toulouse Oncopole.

Today, the first patient treated in Toulouse is doing well, he remains under surveillance but the results are encouraging.

“The goal now is to show the safety of this treatment and to prove that the patient’s body has developed an immune response.”

Prof. Jean-Pierre Delord, Director of the IUCT-Oncopole in Toulouse

Two other patients, treated at the Toulouse Oncopole for ENT cancers of the head and neck, will receive the individualized therapeutic vaccine TG4050 by the end of winter.

Up to 30 patients will receive TG4050 in France, in the United Kingdom and in the United States as part of this research to assess the benefits of treatment with TG4050 in patients with a high risk of cancer relapse.

Translated from the original version in French by Clara Delannoy published in France 3 Occitaine.

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