Questions Arise Over Alleged Russian Cancer Vaccine

Russia's President Vladimir Putin announced on February 14 that Russian scientists were close to a cancer vaccine breakthrough. While no one seems to have heard of the vaccine, the country's scientists appear to be developing immunotherapy treatments.

Speaking at a Moscow forum on future technologies, Putin said that Russia has come very close "to the creation of so-called cancer vaccines and immunomodulatory drugs of a new generation."

Putin, amid Russia's brutal invasion of neighboring Ukraine, said, "I hope that soon they will be effectively used as methods of individual therapy."

Vaccines against cancer, the condition that claims about 10 million people globally each year, are no longer science fiction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved six cancer prevention and treatment vaccines.

As scientists make great strides toward developing new vaccines, the process is meticulously documented in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

However, ClinicalTrials.gov, a database of clinical studies conducted around the world, does not find cancer vaccine trials in Russia.

Responding to Healthnews' request to provide more information about clinical trials that tested the alleged vaccine, the Russian Government press service referred to the Ministry of Health, which hadn't responded by the time of publication. Nor has the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

Moreover, the World Health Organization hasn't responded to Healthnews' request asking whether it is aware of the cancer vaccine developed by Russia.

Is Russia developing a cancer vaccine?

Russian government-controlled media outlets reported in 2021 that scientists at the N.N. Petrov National Medical Research Center of Oncology developed an antitumor vaccine based on the immune system cells.

Professor Irina Baldueva, named as one of the creators of the vaccine, said the vaccine saved the lives of 800 cancer patients, many of whom were considered terminally ill.

Baldueva's profile on ResearchGate, a platform designed for scientists to share their work, does not include the late-stage clinical trials reported in Russian media.

The Institute, however, is developing immunotherapies for cancer treatment based on dendritic cells, a type of immune system cells.

Immunotherapy involves modulating the patient's immune system to fight cancer cells, which sometimes can be difficult for the immune system to recognize or evoke a response strong enough to fight them.

Costly and still in the developmental stages, immunotherapies are often given to late-stage cancer patients who do not respond to other treatments.

Linas Černiauskas, a Ph.D. candidate in medicine at Vilnius University and researcher at Healthnews, says scientists have been working on developing various immunotherapies for cancer since the 1900s.

Immunotherapies are being developed worldwide that are similar to those developed in Russia. While the treatment is indeed administered by injection, the mechanism of action is different from traditional vaccines. We are still likely far from developing a widely-used, highly effective vaccine that could entirely prevent or treat cancer.

Černiauskas

What cancer vaccines do we have?

In the United States, multiple vaccines are approved and already used for cancer prevention and treatment.

Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil-9 work against the high-risk strains of human papillomavirus, significantly reducing the risk of HPV-related cervical, anal, mouth, and throat, and penile cancers, among others.

Vaccines against the hepatitis B virus, such as HEPLISAV-B, protect against infection by the hepatitis B virus and, as a result, may help prevent HBV-related liver cancer.

The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) therapeutic vaccine is approved for intravesical use for patients with early-stage bladder cancer, while the Sipuleucel-T (Provenge®) vaccine is used as a treatment for prostate cancer.

What vaccines are being developed?

More cancer vaccines are yet to come, with clinical trials showing promising results.

Merck/Moderna's vaccine against melanoma is currently in the phase 3 clinical trial. The combined therapy that includes the new vaccine and Keytruda, a cancer immunotherapy, cut the risk of cancer recurrence or death by 49% compared with Keytruda alone in the phase 2 clinical trial.

BioNTech and Genentech are developing autogene cevumeran, a personalized mRNA vaccine that may be used for pancreatic cancer treatment. In a small clinical trial involving 16 individuals, the vaccine yielded a robust immune response in 50% of recipients. Autogene cevumaren is also being tested for colorectal cancer and melanoma.

TG4050, the vaccine from the French biotech Transgene, is now in Phase 1 trials for ovarian cancer and HPV-negative head and neck cancer. The preliminary data showed that the vaccine is safe, well tolerated, and capable of inducing immune responses.

Anixa Biosciences's breast cancer vaccine, which is still in the early stages of development, achieved a good immune response in 75% of patients in the phase 1 clinical trial without causing significant side effects.

Vaccines may revolutionize cancer prevention and treatment. However, there is little evidence that Russia will play a major role in their development in the near future.


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