A universal vaccine that would revolutionise the treatment of cancer and stop the growth of tumours could be available in two years
More than 1,000 Britons with advanced cancer of the pancreas have begun a major trial of a vaccine that could significantly lengthen the lives of sufferers by using the body’s own defences to fight the disease.
The revolutionary TeloVac trail, taking place in 53 hospitals in the UK, is in the final stages, testing an injection which primes the body’s immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells.
‘This will be a pivotal trial,’ says John Neoptolemos, director of the Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre. ‘If it’s successful, it would make a real difference to the way clinicians behave and patients are treated.’
Around 7,600 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Britain each year, and only 3 per cent of those live more than five years. It is hoped that the TeloVac jab could add three months on to the lives of sufferers.
The vaccine contains a fragment of the enzyme called telomerase, normally found in human embryos and which cancer cells use to divide unchecked. The vaccine teaches T-cells in the immune system to recognise cells that express telomerase and attack them.
The results of the 1,110-person trial will be announced next autumn and, if successful, a vaccine could be approved as early as 2013.
Scientists hope the method will also work on other types of tumours with a lung cancer trial scheduled for later this year.
Dr Jay Sangjae Kim, founder of GemVax, the Korean company developing the TeloVac vaccine, says: ‘We strongly believe this has the potential to overcome limits of other current cancer vaccines and become part of the standard of care not only for pancreatic cancer but for various other types of cancer.’