A cancer vaccine developed by the team headed by IRIC’s Dr. Claude Perreault is voted 2019 Scientific Discovery of the Year by the readers of Québec Science!
For the past 27 years, Québec Science magazine has kept up the tradition: every fall, a jury of investigators and journalists selects the 10 most impressive Quebec discoveries of the past year and the public is then invited to vote for the discovery of its choice. This year, a project involving a vaccine able to treat certain cancers was the most popular among readers, garnering 40% of the votes cast as part of the 2019 Discoveries of the Year competition.
For decades, the search for a cancer vaccine has remained unsuccessful, but a team from the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of the Université de Montréal has managed to change things by searching through “junk DNA”. That nickname is attributed to 90% of our DNA because that genetic material does not code for any protein. But within these misunderstood DNA sequences, Dr. Claude Perreault and his colleagues found the ingredient for a unique therapy.
All vaccines must provide the immune system with a clear target. That target is the antigens, protein fragments present on the surface of the cells. Thanks to them, the specialized immune cells, T-cells, recognize and eliminate the diseased cells. Yet the cancer cells present few antigens that can be identified by T-cells; therefore they remain undetectable and proliferate.
Dr. Perreault’s team systematically studied all of the antigens present on normal and cancer cells and then identified the differences between the two: antigens known as “cancer-specific”. A colossal task which revealed that the vast majority of cancer-specific antigens came from junk DNA. They can serve as targets for several patients suffering from one same type of cancer. The results look promising in mice: some of the vaccines tested cured all of the rodents. This is unheard of!
In order to develop a first vaccine intended for human use, investigators are focusing on ovarian cancer and acute myeloid leukemia. In this context, a recent advance helped to show that cancer-specific antigens are found in practically all ovarian cancer tumors and are widely shared between them. Within the next three years, clinical studies will be launched. If they are successful, the lives of thousands of patients will one day be transformed as a result.
“My team and I are very grateful that our work was chosen as the 2019 Scientific Discovery of the Year by Québec Science. We will be sure to honour the distinction by continuing to pursue our objectives, in order to change the lives of those affected by cancer. We thank everyone who has contributed to advancing our research project and who had faith in our boldness to envision research differently. It’s by working together that we will one day put an end to this scourge”, said Dr. Claude Perreault, Principal Investigator at IRIC.
“When IRIC was created on the Université de Montréal campus, in 2003, we firmly believed that thanks to its unique model bringing together under one roof fundamental research activities, an academic training program and a team translating discoveries into therapeutic solutions, our investigators would provide crucial answers with respect to understanding cancer and the resulting treatments”, pointed out the Rector of the Université de Montréal, Mr. Guy Breton. “Today, we have further proof that our hopes are shared by many Quebeckers.”
“Cancer affects us all, directly or indirectly. This vote from the public exemplifies the importance that the fight against cancer has taken on in our society. It’s also a tribute to the ability of our investigators to innovate and to extend boundaries, time and again”, said Marie Lambert-Chan, Editor-in-Chief of Québec Science magazine.
Also taking part in the discovery: Céline Laumont, Krystel Vincent, Leslie Hesnard, Éric Audemard, Éric Bonneil, Jean-Philippe Laverdure, Patrick Gendron, Mathieu Courcelles, Marie-Pierre Hardy, Caroline Côté, Chantal Durette, Charles St-Pierre, Mohamed Benhammadi, Joël Lanoix, Sébastien Lemieux and Pierre Thibault, of IRIC, along with Elie Haddad and Suzanne Vobecky, of the CHU Sainte-Justine.
About Québec Science
A special link between the research community and the general public, Québec Science magazine addresses all of the questions relating to science and technology and takes a scientific look at the major issues of current interest. It is published by Vélo Québec Éditions (eight issues per year) and is sold at newsstands for $6.95 as well as by subscription. Québec Science receives funding from the ministère de l'Économie et de l'Innovation du Québec.
About the IRIC
An ultra-modern research hub and training centre located in the heart of the Université de Montréal, the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of the Université de Montréal was created in 2003 to shed light on the mechanisms of cancer and discover new, more effective therapies to counter this disease. The IRIC operates according to a model that is unique in Canada. Its innovative approach to research has already led to discoveries that will, over the coming years, have a significant impact on the fight against cancer.