INVESTIGATES: Breast cancer vaccine trials offer hope for a cure

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. But imagine a world --- without breast cancer.


Doctors are pushing closer to a cure, betting on a breakthrough that could in the form of a vaccine.

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Wife and mother of six, Deatrice Jackson, was diagnosed with Stage 2, HER2-positive breast cancer last April.

Jackson said,” It was like a shock because it’s not, it’s not in my family at all.

Jackson’s oncologist at Mayo Clinic laid out a battle plan that included six rounds of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and a mastectomy. In October 2022, Jackson said she was declared cancer free.

But weeks after beating the disease, Jackson took on a new fight to help save other women. She is among hundreds of patients across the country, participating in one of Mayo Clinic’s breast cancer vaccine trials.

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“I want to help so many other women that’s going through this.”

As a part of the HER2-positive trial, Jackson said she will get the shots in her arm every 21 days until September and after that doctors will follow her progress for the next 10 years.

Dr. Keith Knutson is a Professor of Immunology and Cancer Biology at May Clinic. For the last two decades, he’s been at the tip of the spear, fighting the disease, developing vaccines for triple-negative and HER2 breast cancer that are currently in phase two human clinical trials.

Dr. Knutson said, “It’s very rewarding as you can imagine.”

Dr. Knutson said, similar to a vaccine for an infectious disease, breast cancer vaccines work to stimulate the body’s immune system to create t-cells and antibodies to kill off cancer cells.

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Dr. Knutson said 280 people are enrolled in triple-negative that started in 2016. Mayo is currently enrolling people for the HER2-positive trial that started in 2020. Dr. Knutson said both the HER2 and triple-negative experimental vaccines are given to women who had those type of cancers in the past, with the goal of stopping it from coming back. Knutson said both of the trials should wrap up in the next 2-3 years and move into Phase 3, from there Mayo will work to get FDA approval.

Dr. Knutson said, “It’s really been the revolution in science and our understanding of immunology, over the past decade that has allowed us to really start thinking about vaccines being applied to different kinds of diseases.”

The Cleveland Clinic, which has locations in Florida, also created a vaccine. It’s in the first phase of human trials and focuses on patients who have been treated for triple-negative breast cancer or are cancer-free but at high risk. Survivor Jennifer Davis was the first person to get their vaccine nearly two years ago. So far, she’s had no complications and remains cancer free.

Davis said, “Eventually one day down the road it could prevent triple-negative breast cancer altogether. To not have that anymore, I’m so hopeful.”

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Mayo Clinic is also working a new preventative breast cancer vaccine. Dr. Knutson says it is being manufactured in the lab right now and could stop women from developing any kind of breast cancer at all. Those trials are expected to start late this year or early next year.

Jackson hopes her contribution to this groundbreaking research will help save lives as she celebrates living out the rest of hers.

Jackson said, “I’m strong. I’m a warrior. I just feel like I can get through anything. I’m blessed. I really am.”

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Jackson said she’s planning to go back to school to become oncology nurse and nutritionist.