At the Cancer Vaccine Institute, we’re creating a world where cancer is no longer a threat - and we’re some of the foremost experts in the world. Our work focuses on using your own immune system to better fight and fend off cancer. Immunology isn't a novel scientific discipline, but how we're using it to ultimately create a world where a cancer diagnosis is no longer a terrifying thing is.
Immunotherapy uses a person's own immune system to fight diseases, like cancer. Vaccines and immunology have been mainstream conversation since SARS-CoV-2 changed everyday life in early 2020. We've seen, in real-time, how immunizations are used to end pandemics. And just like many of the new COVID-19 vaccines target the virus' spike protein, our cancer vaccines target proteins that are present in high levels in cancer tissue, and teach the immune system how to elicit the Type 1 response the immune system needs to ultimately attack the cancer cells. We've found that our vaccines are safe and effective, and that boosters vaccines can keep the immune system fending off cancer relapse years later.
It’s groundbreaking work, currently focused on the cancers that make up more than half of diagnoses and deaths in the United States, including breast, colon, ovarian, lung, prostate, bladder, and sarcoma.
Previously known as the Tumor Vaccine Group, the Cancer Vaccine Institute at UW Medicine was established by Dr. Nora Disis, known as the “Mother of Cancer Vaccines.” Together, we work on developing cancer vaccines, adoptive T cell therapy, modifying the tumor immune environment, cancer diagnostics, and better measurement of immunity in people.
In the last five years, we have received $27 million in grant funding to support our research from the National Cancer Institute, Department of Defense, American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen, and many other foundations. Over the last 20 years, we've conducted 25 Phase I and Phase 2 clinical trials with human subjects – bringing our research out of the lab and into the lives of patients. And since forming, we’ve published over 250 scientific articles that describe and share our work with the scientific community, and have been issued 15 patents, with 7 additional patents pending.
Two Decades of Immunotherapy Trailblazing
While our research was initially focused on developing vaccines that targeted one protein expressed at high levels in cancer tissue, our approach has evolved to targeting multiple proteins. These “multi-antigenic” vaccines are more effective as they allow us to capture several different kinds of changes that cancer cells may have experienced.
Eliciting the right kind of immune response
Our vaccines target proteins that are expressed at abnormally high levels in cancer tissue (compared to noncancerous tissue). We design our vaccines to elicit a Type 1 response. These methods are unique to the CVI and set us apart from other researchers working on cancer vaccines.
Impact on patients
Our long-term follow up for patients on several Phase I and Phase II studies shows that almost half of the patients with advanced breast cancer who received our vaccines (i.e. HER2 peptide-based vaccine) are alive almost a decade after receiving their initial vaccine. Our studies have also shown that we can maintain an immune response longer by administering booster vaccines.
Our research has evolved over the past 20 years to focus on realizing Dr. Disis' vision of using the human immune system to fight cancer. Today, our work is focused in a few distinct areas:
Mary (Nora) Disis, MD
Will Gwin, MD
John Liao, MD, PhD
Associate Professor, Obstetrics & Gynecology
Laura Riolobos, PhD
Our research impact is amplified by the academic and industry partnerships we've formed over the past three decades. The collaboration around our shared vision ensures that we all benefit from each other's learnings along the path to ending cancer.