A personalized cancer vaccine made from individual patients’ DNA has produced “really hopeful” initial results.
Breakthrough thrust, created using technology perfected in COVID pandemic, is being given to patients after they complete conventional treatment for head and neck cancer. Patients are more likely to have the cancer come back.
Preliminary data from an ongoing clinical trial at Clatterbridge Cancer Center shows that none of the first eight patients given the injection have relapsed, even after several months.
But the cancer came back in two of the eight patients who were not vaccinated.
The numbers are too small to draw firm statistical conclusions.
But Professor Christian Ottensmeier, consultant on medical oncology and director of clinical research at the centre, told Sky News he was “cautiously optimistic”.
“I really hope, yes,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about that. All the data is pointing in the right direction.”
A small clinical trial of the vaccine in ovarian cancer patients in France and the US is also showing promising results.
How do vaccines work?
The jab, codenamed TG4050, is manufactured by a French company called Transgene, using the same technology that produces AstraZeneca’s COVID Vaccine.
DNA from the patient’s tumor was cut and pasted into a harmless virus.
When the genetically modified virus is injected into the body, it trains the immune system to be on the lookout for cancer cells, hoping to destroy them at an early stage before tumors form.
Read more: Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID Vaccine Story
Professor Ottensmeier said: “The immune system can see things that we cannot see with a scan.
“It’s much smarter than humans.
“If we can train the immune system to pick out cells that can lead to relapse at a time when we can’t even see them, then our patient’s chances of long-term survival will be greatly improved.” I’m much taller.”
Doctors are optimistic about the injection because it is carefully tailored to an individual’s cancer.
Mutations in the DNA of tumor cells vary between patients. By creating a single vaccine for every patient, it will be more effective at targeting rogue cells.
10 doses down, 10 more doses left
Sky News got permission to film Brian Wright receiving his 10th dose of the vaccine in Clatterbridge. He has 10 more doses to go between now and January.
Mr Wright underwent a 16-hour surgery almost a year ago to remove a tumor from the floor of his mouth and replace his lower jaw with bone taken from his leg. After that, he had to undergo many grueling weeks of radiation therapy.
He said the vaccine treatment has no side effects, but he needs convincing first to participate.
“If you have throat cancer,” he says, “and they say they’re going to give you that cancer, it just sounds…“oh no, you’re not”.
“But then they explained that it wouldn’t make you cancer again, it would make your body immune to that cancer.”
Thirty patients are participating in the head and neck cancer trial. Half will be vaccinated as soon as the usual treatment ends, and the other half will be vaccinated only at relapse.
The COVID pandemic has spurred the development of vaccine technology once considered highly experimental.
The Oxford team of scientists that developed the AstraZeneca crash plane is using the same “viral vector” strategy to target prostate cancer.
And the mRNA technique that underlies the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines has recently been used with hopeful results against pancreatic cancer.
Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Oxford research group at the Jenner Institute, said: “The pandemic has helped and has spurred the development of a range of new vaccines.
“We’ve learned about their safety in billions of people, where there were thousands before, and that’s useful safety data to have.
“And it means more investment in areas like cancer where we desperately need better therapies.”