Touro Announces Cancer Vaccine Breakthrough

Date: July 28, 2008
Dr. Alison McCormick
Dr. Alison McCormick
Media Contact:

Jim Mitchell

Plants Make Vaccine for Treating Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Vallejo, Calif. and New York, N.Y. - Touro University California, a branch campus of New York-based Touro College, today announced publication of an important scientific paper reporting the first successful use of plant-made cancer vaccines in human phase I clinical trials.

Entitled "Plant-produced idiotype vaccines for the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: Safety and immunogenicity in a phase I clinical study," the paper appears in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper's first author is Dr. Alison McCormick, a faculty member at Touro University California's College of Pharmacy.

The report describes the use of a tobacco plant virus vector, a process used to deliver genetic material into cells, to produce personalized (patient-specific) vaccines against a potentially fatal form of non-Hodgkin's (follicular B cell) lymphoma. Some 18,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with this incurable slow-growing cancer.

The vaccines given to lymphoma patients were well-tolerated with no serious adverse effects. More than 70 percent of the patients developed general immune responses, and nearly half developed antigen-specific responses.

"The study supports the prospect of personalized healthcare using vaccines that are patient-specific, produce few side effects, and cost less because large quantities can be quickly produced in plants," Dr. McCormick said.

The research was performed at several locations by a team of 14 scientists including senior author Dr. Ronald Levy of Stanford University Medical Center. The group collected tumor (B cell) samples from each patient and extracted the gene coding for the antigen needed to help the immune system recognize the tumors as threats. A group of scientists at Large Scale Biology Corporation then inserted the gene into a plant-specific microbe called tobacco mosaic virus, and infected tobacco leaves by simply inoculating them with the viral vector. The virus spread throughout the tobacco plant within a week and produced abundant amounts of the desired protein. The scientists then ground up the leaves, separated out the vaccine, and injected it into lymphoma patients.

Publication of the study followed extensive work developing and perfecting the therapeutic approach in a collaborative effort between Stanford University School of Medicine and Large Scale Biology. Since the successful trial, Dr. McCormick has been working at Touro on improving vaccine efficacy and formulation.

Touro is actively engaged in cancer research, and is dedicated to developing effective drug therapies. In addition, the Touro University California campus plans to break ground this fall on an oncology facility that when completed, will provide state-of-the-art radiation treatment for cancer patients.