Jennifer Davis was the first person to get a breast-cancer vaccine. It's showing remarkable results.
The shot she received is among several of breast-cancer vaccines in early-stage trials.
The head of the company behind the vaccine is hopeful it could eliminate breast cancer for good.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jennifer Davis. It has been edited for length and clarity.
My breast cancer was in remission, but I was in a constant state of worry that it would return. I had triple-negative breast cancer, or TNBC, one of the most deadly forms of the disease with a high rate of recurrence.
The one and only time I'd Googled it — soon after my diagnosis in September 2018 — I was shocked to read that this kind of cancer reoccurred around 60% of the time. Once you have a recurrence with triple negative, it's usually metastatic breast cancer, meaning it's no longer isolated to one area of your body. There is no cure.
The breast-cancer vaccine had not been tested on humans before
Every day, I lived with fear. If I got a headache, I thought it was a brain tumor. If I had an ache in my arm because I'd slept on it wrong, I thought I had bone cancer. My whole family worried for me, too.
In June 2021, I had my three-month checkup at the doctor's office. The nurse practitioner told me about the trial of a breast-cancer vaccine, and she said it was close to being ready.
The vaccine had been in development for the past 20 years, but it had never been tested on humans. Anixa Biosciences, the company behind the shot, was looking for volunteers for the first phase of the human trial.
I didn't hesitate. I thought: "What a gift for me that this could possibly work. I get to live to see my kids get married and have children themselves." I hoped that one day, people would never have to worry about breast cancer — especially triple negative — ever again.
I asked the inventor of the vaccine if he'd seen any terrible reaction in the mice who'd received it so far. "Did any of them die?" I said. He said no.
I asked how many of these animals had experienced a recurrence of TNBC. "Zero," the doctor, who was based at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said.
The medical staff applauded when I received the vaccine
The vaccine is designed to train the immune system to destroy cells that are producing a protein called alpha-lactalbumin. The protein is present only when a woman is lactating or when cancer cells form. If the vaccine has correctly trained the immune system, it will destroy cancer cells before they form a tumor.
So far, 14 other women have met the criteria for the trial. We were eligible because we'd been treated for TNBC within the past three years and were at high risk of a recurrence.
I was the first person to get the vaccine. You get three doses, two weeks apart. I had one in each leg and one in the stomach. The medical staff in the room applauded. We were all so hopeful.
We've been closely monitored for almost two years now. The results have shown that the immune system is responding as everyone wanted it to. Nobody's cancer has come back. It feels like a miracle.
The next phase of the trial will be done on women with the BRCA gene — those who've had prophylactic mastectomies because of their increased chance of developing breast cancer. The last phase will involve a double-blind study of thousands of women across the world.
If everything goes to plan, the vaccine could receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration within the next five years. Anixa has been focused on TNBC because it's the most lethal type of breast cancer. But they believe the vaccine will also prevent other types of breast cancer.
A recurrence of my cancer is no longer a topic of discussion in our family. I have two daughters, and it's incredible to think that within my lifetime and theirs, breast cancer could be a thing of the past.
Editor's note: Insider contacted Dr. Amit Kumar, the CEO of Anixa Biosciences. "Looking at the technology, it's a very unique approach to preventing breast cancer," he said. "It's a bold statement to make, but assuming the data continues to look as good as it has, and assuming we do the larger studies, it's possible that we might be able to eliminate virtually all breast cancers."
For more information about the trial, visit ClinicalTrials.gov.
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