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By Lipika Chablani

Lipika Chablani-finalThe term cancer refers to about 200 diseases that share two common characteristics: an uncontrolled growth of cells and the ability to invade and damage normal tissues either locally or at distant sites in the body. Current advances in diagnostic methods allow health professionals to diagnose several cancer patients early and provide medical interventions.

With the advent of chemotherapy in the 1940s, there was an increasing need for drug delivery systems/formulations for these relatively toxic drug molecules. Several of these chemotherapeutic drug molecules are given intravenously and are associated with systemic adverse effects. Most of these chemotherapeutic drugs are limited by virtue of their dose-related toxicity, leaving the patient to move on to an alternative chemotherapeutic regimen. Apart from chemotherapy, surgical removal of tumor masses and elimination of solid tumors via radiation is also commonly employed. However, all these methods are significantly invasive and debilitate the patient, impacting the quality of life. Additionally, many patients undergo a relapse and must revisit these challenges all over again.

Formulation scientists are constantly challenged with unique opportunities to deliver chemotherapeutic drug molecules to cancer patients. With the growing rate of cancer diagnoses, new therapies are being introduced to pave their way to the market. A promising alternative is immunotherapy. Immunotherapy involves training patients’ own immune systems to fight against cancer and eliminate it. These immunotherapeutic approaches include application of various kinds of cancer vaccines to prime the immune system against cancer.

Can a vaccine be formulated to obtain a protective or therapeutic immune response against cancer? Many ongoing preclinical and clinical studies aim to achieve a successful cancer vaccine. Research proves that micro/nanoparticles loaded with unique cancer antigens and decorated with immunostimulatory molecules are capable of activating the immune system against cancer. Priming the immune system provides a specific cytotoxic effect against the cancer cells. Thus, these microparticulate cancer vaccines activate the immune system and also limit the adverse effects on the healthy cells as seen with chemotherapeutic agents. Several research studies in this direction are progressing to promising preclinical outcomes.

The cover article in the March issue of the AAPS Newsmagazine reviews immunotherapeutic applications using micro- and nanoparticulate delivery systems. Read Micro- and Nanoparticulate Cancer Vaccines: A Vision for the Future, from the Formulation Design and Development section, and then participate in the discussion point below.

Which other alternative approaches can benefit formulation scientists to boost the immune response of such micro/nanoparticulate cancer vaccines?

Lipika Chablani, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the Wegmans School of Pharmacy, St. John Fisher College, and actively engaged in cancer immunotherapy research involving micro/nanoparticulate delivery vehicles.