Cancer vaccine trialled on UK patients in world first amid hope of cure

Nurse Christian Medina administers patient Steve Young with his first jab at the University College London Hospital

A cancer vaccine is being tested on British patients for the first time. The vaccine, regarded as a potentially potent tool to combat melanoma, could also halt the progression of lung, bladder and kidney cancers.

Invented uniquely for each patient within weeks, the transformative jab tells the immune system about recognising and eliminating malignant cells. Particularly encouraging results have emerged from phase-two tests o led by pharma heavyweights Moderna and MSD.

It significantly enhanced survival in people with melanoma and showed potential in preventing recurrence.

Given its promising trajectory, a definitive phase-three trial is now underway. Dr Heather Shaw, chief coordinating investigator of this UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust-led study, expressed her optimism, The Mirror reports.

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She described it as one of the most exciting developments in a long time. She said: "This is one of the most exciting things we've seen in a really long time. This is a really finely honed tool. These things are hugely technical and finely generated for the patient. There is a real hope that these will be the game-changers in immunotherapy."

The treatment is known as individualised neoantigen therapy. It is created to target tumour neoantigens, substances expressed by tumours. These are markers on the tumour that can potentially be recognised by the immune system.

It involves an injection that carries coding for up to 34 neoantigens, triggering an immune response tailored to the unique mutations of a patient's cancer. To produce the vaccine, a tumour sample is surgically removed and then DNA sequencing along with artificial intelligence are employed in its development.

Dr Shaw is hopeful hat it could potentially cure cancer, stating: "Absolutely, that's the drive. With this therapy, what you're doing is dealing with the theoretical risk that the cancer could recur."

She explained that the aim of the treatment is to eradicate all cancer cells, including those not detectable by scans. The phase-three global trial is set to expand to include a broader patient group, seeking approximately 1,100 participants.

In the UK, the goal is to enlist at least 60 patients from eight centres, among them London, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Leeds. Phase-two results released in December indicated that individuals with serious high-risk melanomas who were treated with the vaccine in conjunction with MSD's immunotherapy drug Keytruda had a 49 per cent lower chance of death or cancer recurrence after three years compared to those who only received Keytruda.

The potential side effects of a groundbreaking cancer therapy are reportedly no more severe than those associated with the flu jab. Professor Lawrence Young, from the University of Warwick, commented: "This is one of the most exciting developments in modern cancer therapy. The hope is that this approach could be extended to other cancers such those of the lung and colon."

The treatment, which combines different therapies, is currently undergoing trials for bladder and kidney cancer at UCLH.

Among the early participants in the trial is 52 year old musician Steve Young, whose seemingly innocuous "bump on the head", which he believes he had for about ten years, was diagnosed as melanoma.

Reflecting on his condition, Steve shared: "I spent two weeks just thinking 'This is it'. My dad died of emphysema when he was 57 and I actually thought, 'I'm going to die younger than my dad'."

However, upon learning about the trial, Steve's interest was immediately sparked. He said: "It really triggered my geek radar. I was just like, 'It sounds fascinating' and I still feel the same."

Vaccines typically function by introducing a benign fragment of bacteria or virus to stimulate an immune response. However, researchers have crafted a vaccine that employs a molecule known as 'messenger RNA' (mRNA), eschewing the use of live bacteria or viruses.

This innovative mRNA method instructs the body to generate antibodies that target and mark foreign pathogensor cancer cellsfor elimination. Although mRNA was discovered back in the 1960s, it wasn't until the recent pandemic that the first vaccines using this technology were introduced to the market.

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