Usually vaccines are considered as drugs used in a prophylactic manner to avoid getting sick from e.g. a viral infection. However, nowadays cancer vaccines are usually applied to patients that are already suffering from the disease. The actively personalized vaccines (APVACs) in this project also belong to this class of so called „therapeutic vaccines“. The APVACs are composed of two sorts of personalized antigens:

APVAC 1: Tumor-associated peptides (TUMAPs) highly overexpressed in the tumor tissue of a particular patient. Such peptides can be readily synthesized and picked „off the shelf“ from a so called peptide warehouse. Selection of peptides from the warehouse is based on analysis of various biomarkers found in the tumor and immune system of the patient. This warehouse was set up in the preclinical phase of the project covering initially a large number of highly tumor-associated and immunogenic peptides binding to different Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) receptors.

APVAC 2: Mutated tumor-specific peptides in the tumor tissue of a particular patient. Cancer genome instability and subsequent selective pressure leads to the accumulation of mutations. Mutated genes eventually lead to mutated peptides exclusively presented on HLA receptors on tumor but not healthy cells. Such mutated peptides are expected to be extremely powerful in terms of immunogenicity and efficacy. The majority of such mutations are expected to be identified only in single tumors and thus such peptides were manufactured specifically for individual patients.

While partners immatics biotechnologies (a spin-off from the University of Tuebingen) has experience in identifying and selecting the peptides for APVAC 1, partner BioNTech (a spin-off from the University of Mainz) brings in its experience to generate APVAC 2. In this project, two leading companies backed by two academic institutions renowned for their expertise in cancer immunology – the Universities of Tübingen and Mainz – have joined forces to combine the best possible science for the benefit of the individual patient.