New approaches to vaccine development for ovarian cancer

New approaches to vaccine development for ovarian cancer

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December 2022
Research working towards the development of vaccines that can stop ovarian cancer coming back has been bolstered through new Victorian Government funding.

Photo of two ovarian cancer researchers in a laboratory
RMIT University’s Professor Magdalena Plebanski
(left) with WEHI’s Professor Clare Scott.

A grant from the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF) will help accelerate the clinical translation of a groundbreaking ovarian cancer trial co-led by WEHI and RMIT University.

The trial focuses on women who respond exceptionally well to ovarian cancer treatment, with the new grant enabling researchers to better understand these “super-responders” and use these insights to advance work on designing vaccines that can prevent recurrence.

“Women with ovarian cancer have been waiting for more than 30 years for effective therapies."

Project co-leader Professor Clare Scott AM said survival rates for ovarian cancer have hardly improved in over three decades, with one Australian woman dying from the disease every eight hours.

“Women with ovarian cancer have been waiting for more than 30 years for effective therapies to change the dread that inevitably follows their diagnosis,” said Professor Scott, Joint Head of the Clinical Translation Centre and Laboratory Head at WEHI.

“This funding will enable us to work out what makes ‘superresponders’ so special and kickstart the next stage – towards the development of new vaccine-based strategies for ovarian cancer.

“Our ultimate goal is a vaccine that can stop ovarian cancer coming back and could even be effective for preventing recurrence of other cancers.”

Fighting recurrence

Despite good responses to initial surgery for ovarian cancer, more than 70% of women will experience recurrence, usually within the first three years. Most of these women will eventually die from their cancer.

To improve these outcomes, the SOLACE2 Phase 2 clinical trial running in 15 hospitals across Australia aims to identify which women with ovarian cancer are most likely to be cured by early treatment with a combination of immunotherapy and PARP inhibitor (PARPi) therapy. PARPi is currently only available in Australia for women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 variant ovarian cancer.

The $498,000 VMRAF grant will support work to better predict who is likely to be a super-responder and identify target antigens to enable the development of vaccine-based strategies, including for other women with ovarian cancer.

The new project also leverages WEHI’s extensive expertise in bioinformatics and analysis of genomics data, led by Principal Investigator Professor Tony Papenfuss.

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Dr Olga Kondrashova and Professor Clare Scott are helping to match ovarian cancer patients with the right treatment for their cancer.