Breaking News: A Giant Step Forward for the Breast Cancer Vaccine
Vincent Tuohy, an immunologist at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, is working on a preventive breast cancer vaccine. (Gus Chan, Plain Dealer)
CLEVELAND, Ohio-- A Cleveland Clinic researcher who has spent the past 11 years working on a breast cancer vaccine that would both prevent the disease and keep it from recurring has secured enough funding to move the drug to clinical trials.
Vincent Tuohy, an immunologist at the Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, will head up the company, called Shield Biotech, as its chief science officer. Shield Biotech, so named because the vaccine it is developing will act as a defense against breast cancer, is a spinoff-company created by Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the commercialization arm of the hospital system.
A private investor, who wishes to remain anonymous, is providing the funding for the initial clinical trials, but the Clinic would not provide the exact amount of the donation.
“It’s sufficient to make sure that we’re able to get this off the ground,” Tuohy said in a phone interview with The Plain Dealer. Tuohy and his research team have struggled to secure the large amount of funding necessary to start clinical trials, despite local grass-roots efforts and a $1 million endowed chair in Innovative Breast Cancer Research provided by the Mort and Iris November family last year.
Recruited by the Clinic in 1989 for his research in multiple sclerosis, Tuohy first published promising research results from the vaccine in 2010 in the journal Nature Medicine. Those results, which garnered international attention, showed that a single vaccination against a protein called alpha-lactalbumin prevented breast cancer tumors from forming and halted the growth of existing tumors in mice.
Alpha-lactalbumin, which in healthy women is a protein that is found only in the breast milk, is also produced in tumor tissues, for reasons that are not yet fully understood.
“In a way it doesn’t matter [why],” Tuohy, 65, said. “What we really care about is that we can take advantage of it and actually provide immune protection to stimulate a woman’s immune system so that she doesn’t get breast cancer.”