By Debbie Laxague
My interest in vaccines as they relate to cancer goes back to when I still considered myself to be a patient (as opposed to an advocate). Early in this century, there seemed to be trial after trial that reported “positive” results for therapeutic breast cancer vaccines. Upon investigation of the small print, however, it would become clear that they were reporting that while they could measure immune responses to the vaccines, this didn’t follow through to mean success in preventing or decreasing cancer. Which was not my idea of a “positive” result.
By the time I was invited to participate as an advocate in NBCCs Artemis workshops, I had pretty much lost all enthusiasm that vaccines or immunotherapy could be a solution to any aspect of breast cancer. So I attended my first meeting as a certified skeptic. And I was not the only skeptic present.
As is usual for NBCC undertakings, much thought and planning went into the guest list for the Artemis meeting. The people sitting at the table that first Artemis Project® meeting were leaders in their fields of immunology, oncology, policy and advocacy. The basic task was to answer the questions “is it the right time to ask if we can make a prophylactic breast cancer vaccine.”
For a few people at the table, the answer was an emphatic YES. For others, it was a definite “no way.” Most of the rest leaned toward skepticism, but with interest. The discussions began slowly, with short presentations on different aspects of cancer immunology. These were followed by long discussions that revealed not just the complexity, but also the progress that has been made in understanding the role of the immune system in both cancer control and growth. Amazingly, by the end of the meeting, everyone in the room believed that it was time to look at the idea of a prophylactic breast cancer vaccine.
To be a small part of this process renewed my enthusiasm for the possibilities of success with breast cancer vaccines. But more importantly, it showed me what can happen when we stop doing the same things, at the same pace, in the same ways. With NBCC’s guidance, the brilliant minds sitting at that first Artemis table were able to take off the blinders that kept them tunneling down into the narrow confines of their own area of expertise. They were able to share and combine their experience and brilliance in ways previously not considered. In addition, with advocate presence and the focus of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®, NBCC brought a new sense of urgency and time constraint to the forefront of the explorations. It is exciting to know that this approach will be equally successful when applied to the other arms of NBCC’s Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®.