The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently awarded a $1.1 million grant to researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas to support the advance of clinical studies on an experimental immunotherapy for throat cancer linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
“HPV is a significant cause of cancers worldwide, including cancers of the throat, cervix and other types,” explained the principal investigator on the grant and associate professor at Baylor, Dr. Andrew Sikora in a press release. “HPV-related throat cancer is currently the fastest-growing type of head and neck cancer.”
HPV is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection; in fact, it is estimated that nearly all sexually active individuals become infected at some point in their lives. HPV-related throat cancer can be currently treated through surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Cancer immunotherapy, which is based on the use of the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer, is a novel and promising strategy for HPV-related cancers.
The current vaccines and immunotherapies designed against HPV often direct the patient’s immune response against proteins of the virus, ultimately killing the HPV-infected cancer cells. A novel approach has, however, been developed.
“One innovative approach to immunotherapy is engineering a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes – which naturally induces a potent immune response – to deliver tumor antigens directly to the patient’s immune cells,” explained Dr. Sikora.
The treatment based on these live attenuated bacteria was developed by Advaxis, a biotechnology company focused on the development of cancer immunotherapies. This Advaxis’ technology is called axalimogene filolisbac (ADXS11-001), and the resulting Listeria-based HPV vaccine works through the stimulation of an immune response against the virus. In this project, Dr. Sikora and his team will collaborate with Advaxis and researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. The grant was awarded through the Orphan Products Grants Program of the FDA, a program designed to support the clinical development of novel therapies for rare conditions for which there is no treatment or the existing treatment options are poor.