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February 14, 2013

Nasal Spray Cancer Vaccine Shrinks Head and Neck Tumors

by Jessica Berman

A promising new vaccine - administered as a nasal spray - is being developed to treat head and neck cancers.  It is one of a growing number of vaccines developed in the last few years to fight cancer.

When a person develops cancer, the body mounts an immune response against the renegade cells but it is often too weak to halt their spread.  So, to supplement radiation and chemotherapy treatment, scientists have been working to develop vaccines to boost the body’s natural defenses against the tumors.  Two promising vaccines in late-stage human trials target prostate cancer and metastatic melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Another vaccine in the pipeline is designed to treat solid tumors that form in the mucosal tissues that line passages in the head, neck, lungs and genitals.  The tissues produce a thick lubricating fluid containing powerful chemicals that normally protect against infection.  Unfortunately, they also also block the immune cells that would otherwise fight the cancerous tumors.  Now researchers have developed a nasal spray vaccine which overcomes this resistance, activating and mobilizing a specific type of immune cell, called a CD8+ T-cell, in the tissue at the tumor site.

Eric Tartour, a researcher with the Universite Paris Descarte, led a team studying the effectiveness of the intranasal spray on solid mucosal tumors in mice.

He says the tumors developed after the mice were infected with a strain of human papilloma virus that’s known to cause cancer.

“The tumor shrank," said Tartour. "And we also analyzed the tumors after they shrank.  And they were heavily infiltrated by immune cells which destroyed the tumors.”

Tartour and colleagues also compared the effectiveness of their vaccine when it was injected, and found it was less potent than when given by nasal spray.

“What we demonstrated in this study is that it is important the way that you administer a vaccine," he said. "It is not only [important] to have a good cancer vaccine.   It is also important to have a proper way to administer it.”

Tartour says the researchers' next goal is to see how well their intranasal vaccine, which has been five years in development, works against tumors that have metastasized or spread to distant sites in the body.

Eric Tartour and colleagues describe their anti-cancer nasal spray in an article in the journal Science Translational Medicine.