Helsinki scientist develops a customizable cancer vaccine

Cancer vaccine PeptiCRAd, developed by Assistant Professor Vincenzo Cerullo, will be the first ever customisable immunotherapy. A virus covered with peptides from cancer cells directs the body’s anti-viral immunity towards the tumour.


Assistant Professor Vincenzo Cerullo along with a schematic of his patented vaccine PeptiCRAd. Image source:

In the quest for a cure for cancer, scientists are turning towards the body’s own defense mechanism for solutions. Training the body’s immune responses to specifically identify and kill cancer cells has been a hot-topic of research in the past few years and Assistant Professor Vincenzo Cerullo from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Helsinki has achieved this through a simple customizable vaccine. The invention is based on the human body’s ability to recognise and destroy viruses.

Cancer vaccine PeptiCRAd, will now be the first ever customizable immunotherapy to be patented. The vaccine works in a simple, yet fascinating way to destroy cancer cells in the body. In the heart of the vaccine is an adenovirus, which can be coated with almost any kind of peptide. Covering the viruses with “signature” proteins from cancer cells makes the body attack the viruses as well as the cancer cells.

“Years ago I started wondering whether we could take some peptides from the cancer cells, coat viruses with them and see whether the immune system would attack the cancer cells along with the viruses” said Vincenzo Cerullo.

The most interesting or useful part of PeptiCRAd is its “customizability”. This means that the vaccine can be modified in accordance to the needs of each patient.

“We could take cancer cells from a patient and prepare a vaccine destined to kill just those cells,” Vincenzo Cerullo said.

The good news is that the new system has been shown to work in animal models and now, together with the University of Helsinki and the University of Helsinki Innovation Services (HIS), Professor Cerullo will take this technology to the clinic, ultimately to help patients.

Development of the virus vaccine also moved forward when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first oncolytic virus therapy for the treatment of melanoma at the end of October 2015.

The European Research Council has also awarded Professor Cerullo the ERC Consolidator grant worth €2 million. Novo Nordisk has also supported the commercialisation of PeptiCrad with €0.5m initially and with smaller grants, such as €80 000 from the Cancer Society of Finland.


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