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Such High Hopes

The optimism over personalized cancer vaccines may be a bit too enthusiastic, according to some researchers.

"What I do really puzzle at is the level of what I would call irrational exuberance," Johns Hopkins University's Drew Pardoll tells Nature News.

Nature News reports that researchers have had promising results showing that such personalized vaccines can lead to immune responses against cancer. This, it adds, has spurred venture capitalists to invest in the field, as they see potential for treating patients. Last year, Gritstone Oncology raised $102 million to go after cancer vaccines, while Neon Therapeutics raised $55 million, it notes.

But, there are still a number of technical kinks to work out. For instance, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Catherine Wu reported at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting that T cells appeared to respond to a vaccine against melanoma, Nature News says. However, it takes Wu's team about 12 weeks to make the vaccine. This, it notes, could limit vaccines to slow-growing tumors.

At the same time, researchers have found that many of the antigens tumors present aren't essential for its survival and so deciding which ones to design a vaccine around is a key step.

Pardoll worries that the field is giving up on researching antigens shared across tumor types too quickly. "I will be the happiest person in the world to be proven wrong on [personalized vaccines]," he tells Nature News. "But I think one has to nonetheless be cognizant of where the challenges are."