Cancer Vaccines Re-Imagined: From Pariah to Darling


  • Jeffrey M. Bockman, PhD, EVP, Head of Oncology Practice, Cello Health BioConsulting, previously Defined Health
  • Serom Lee, PhD, Consultant, Cello Health BioConsulting, previoulsy Defined Health


Cancer vaccines once were the main exemplar of what was then known as immunotherapy. And a poor exemplar they were, with so many failures from early to late stage that the concept cast a pall over the entire field. Many explanations were put forth to try and salvage some credibility, but as we know better now, numerous factors probably were at play, from trying to break tolerance with inadequate immunization platforms based on the infectious disease paradigm to lack of countermeasures to the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME) to the mantra that chemotherapies are by definition counterproductive to mounting an immune response. With better optics now, including improved platforms (including targeting neoantigens), better tools, specifically the anti-PD1/L1 checkpoint inhibitors to de-repress the TME, and a better understanding of the patients and the immune system and even the beneficial role that chemo can play, the field has advanced significantly. When one looks at the IO pipeline, in fact, cancer vaccines, in all their many flavors – tumor specific, neoantigen, common/shared neoantigens, delivered via immunization platforms based on peptides, mRNA or viruses – still make up a substantive proportion of the immuno-oncology programs in clinical development. Given the new resurgent interest amongst investors and BioPharma partners in vaccines, primarily driven by personalized neoantigen approaches, this seems a sanguine time to explore this topic. With leading academic vaccine luminaries, this panel discussion will try to parse out the pros and cons, opportunities and challenges, as well as key learnings from past efforts, to envision how we can thoughtfully develop and position the new generation of cancer vaccines for meaningfully improving the treatment of cancer.