Weizmann 14, Tel Aviv, Israel

Weizmann 14, Tel Aviv, Israel

Coley’s Toxin Vaccines

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Coley’s toxin is a mix of bacterial toxins filtered from dead bacteria. It was discovered by Dr William B. Coley, who is in many ways the grandfather of immunotherapy.

Discovery of Coley’s Toxin

Ever since the times of Ancient Egypt, physicians have documented cases in which advanced cancers seem to regress spontaneously following massive bacterial infections . Different attempts to induce this response had been used throughout Europe between the 13th and the 19th centuries. Many of these used incisions and contaminated poultices meant to infect the tumor. 

Dr Willian B Coley was a physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Following the loss of one of his closest friends to sarcoma, Dr Coley secured funding to continue researching cancer treatments from John D. Rockefeller Jr.

The idea to use sterile bacterial toxins stems from Dr Coley’s observation in the beginning of the century when one of his patients with incurable cancer responded and became tumor free after developing a dangerous bacterial infection. He reasoned that activation of the immune system by bacterial toxins resulted in the an immune response against his tumor. 

His early toxin versions used deliberate infections with Streptococcus pyogenes and Serratia marcescens bacteria. Eventually, he was able to refine this preparation using porcelain to filter the mixture. He then began administering this sterile toxin to different patients with terminal or metastatic cancer. He decided to mimic the dangerous  inflammatory effects of live bacterial infections using bacterial toxins, which can cause fever and shivering but with no risk of infection with live bacteria.

Coley’s Toxin

Early Use of Coley’s Toxin

After being administered, Coley’s toxins produced a systemic reaction similar to that of an infection caused by live bacteria. This included shaking, chills, and high fever. However, many early patients began to experience complete tumor regression during the weeks following this reaction.

When Dr Coley first published the case reports from his early studies, our knowledge of cell-mediated immunity was still very basic. Combined with the unpredictability of results, it became impossible to understand the mechanisms by which systemic infections could act as a cure for cancer.

Side effects resulting from treatment with Coley’s toxin, sometimes called Coley’s fluid, were unpleasant.  The anti-cancer effects were not consistent. As a result, the fruit of his research was ignored for over a century, and the potential of anti-cancer immunotherapy was set aside. Throughout the 20th century, chemotherapy and radiotherapy became the established methods to treat  cancer, while the important role of immunotherapy received its full recognition only in recent years.

Using Coley’s Toxin for Anti-Cancer immunotherapy

Coley’s toxin can be used in two different ways:


  1. It can be used to produce anticancer vaccines by interacting with freshly obtained or cryopreserved cancer cells, their lysates, and possibly with other components of cancer cells, such as extracellular vesicles (EV), exosomes, or even circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and RNA .
  2. It can be injected directly into an existing tumor or tumor metastases, serving as an internal or in situ anti-cancer vaccines.


The first method depends on the availability of cancer tissue or other tumor-derived components. This is why the use of lysates from cryopreserved tumor tissue remains the preferred method. However, this requires the patient to proactively preserve tumor samples during the initial diagnosis and store them at a tumor bank.

The second method, the intra-tumor injection of Coley’s toxin, requires patients to have a visible tumor lesion close enough to the skin surface or in a location that can be accessed safely by an ultrasound or CT-guided needle. A cancer lesion injected with Coley’s toxin can serve as internal or in situ anti-cancer vaccine.

Why to Preserve a Tumor? Our Expert

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Why is it recommended to cryopreserve tumor tissue?

Cryopreserving a tumor sample at ultra-cold temperature ensures it stays as close as “fresh” as possible. This keeps all the information stored in the tumor’s DNA intact.
If standard anti-cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy) fail, the

cryopreserved tumor sample can help us prepare a customized anti-cancer vaccine. This will teach your immune system to recognize the DNA in your tumor as “non-self” and aggressively fight it as it would fight an infection.

What if a tumor is unavailable or cannot be obtained?

If the tumour is not in an easily accessible location, or if it was already removed, it is also possible to use blood-derived cancer components. Blood samples often contain circulating tumour cells, excretory extracellular vesicles or exosomes. These can all be used as a source of cancer antigens, and then be used to manufacture an anti-cancer vaccine.

Ideally, blood samples will need to be harvested and cryopreserved before initiating any conventional oncological treatment (like chemotherapy). This will increase the chances of finding cancer antigens amidst the blood tissue.

Is tumor cryopreservation right for me?

It is impossible to know from the start whether cancer will become recurrent or if it will metastasize. Most cancers respond well to conventional treatments. When they don’t, additional rounds of chemotherapy or radiotherapy are mainly ineffective in eliminating cancer to the last cell.
When a patient is first diagnosed with cancer, we all expect advanced treatments like immunotherapy won’t be necessary. If they do, having a tumor sample stored in a tumor bank can make a massive difference in the range of treatments available.

I would like to store my tumor. What are the steps?

Contact us using the form below. One of our team members will contact you and schedule a video call with you and your attending physician. During this call, we will explain the necessary procedure to reserve a tumor sample during a biopsy, store it, and send it to our tumor bank.

It is important to begin the process before the initial biopsy or cancer-removal surgery. The surgeon needs to be notified ahead of time in order to preserve as much of the original tumor tissue as he can.

The tumor sample can be stored in 2-ml or 5-ml sterile tubes, made from a material that can withstand cryopreservation. If this is not available, the surgeon can also use a 50-ml tube with a small amount of saline solution.

Then, the tumor needs to be transported to Tel Aviv via our courier. During the journey, it should be kept on cold ice at ultra cold temperatures (either a deep-freeze refrigerator at -80°C, or a liquid nitrogen refrigerator at -196°C).

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