In a surprising new study, experts have discovered that Covid vaccination may improve the effectiveness of some cancer treatments. A team of researchers led by the University of Bonn found that a drug used to treat nasopharyngeal cancer was more effective after vaccination with the Chinese vaccine SinoVac.
For patients with nasopharyngeal cancer, treatments are designed to activate the immune system against the tumor. Prior to this study, there was concern that Covid vaccination may reduce the success of such treatments or cause severe side effects.
Many cancer cells attempt to deactivate the body’s immune defense by disrupting the PD-1 receptor, an inhibitory receptor that is expressed by all T cells during activation.
Cancer drugs can be used to block PD-1 receptors and help the body recognize and attack cancer cells. Covid vaccination also stimulates the immune response involving the PD-1 receptor.
“It was feared that the vaccine would not be compatible with anti-PD-1 therapy,” explained Dr. Jian Li of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Experimental Immunology (IMMEI) at the University Hospital Bonn. “This risk is especially true for nasopharyngeal cancer, which, like the SARS Cov-2 virus, affects the upper respiratory tract.”
The investigation was focused on more than 1,500 patients in 23 hospitals across China. Among these individuals, 373 had been vaccinated with the Chinese Covid vaccine SinoVac.
“Surprisingly, they responded significantly better to anti-PD-1 therapy than the unvaccinated patients,” explained Professor Dr. Christian Kurts. “Furthermore, they did not experience severe side effects more often.”
So far, the researchers cannot say why the cancer treatment was more successful after Covid vaccination. “We assume that vaccination activates certain immune cells, which then attack the tumor,” said Dr. Qi Mei. “We will now investigate this hypothesis further.”
The researchers collaborated with a number of clinics throughout China, as well as with experts at University Hospital, Shanxi Medical University, and Tongji Medical College.
The study is published in the journal Annals of Oncology.
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By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer