Cancer vaccines to be at heart of 'national war' against deadly illness

Sajid Javid is promising a 10-year Cancer Plan for England, with new technologies to help boost survival rates - Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images
Sajid Javid is promising a 10-year Cancer Plan for England, with new technologies to help boost survival rates - Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

Vaccines to treat and potentially cure cancer will be at the heart of a “national war” on the disease over the next decade, Sajid Javid will say on Thursday.

The Health Secretary will set out a vision to make Britain a “world leader” in cancer care, amid warnings of some 50,000 missing diagnoses since the start of the pandemic.

Mr Javid will promise a 10-year Cancer Plan for England, which will use new technologies - including mRNA vaccines - to find new ways to boost survival rates.

Scientists who pioneered the jabs to protect people against Covid are examining whether similar methods can be used to train the immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells, preventing regrowth.

Mr Javid will also promise improvements in diagnosing cancer earlier, “so fewer people face the heartache of losing a loved one to this wretched disease”.

Late diagnosis has meant Britain’s cancer survival rates lagged behind many other Western nations, even before the pandemic.

Tens of thousands of people are being recruited to take part in trials of a blood test which could detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.

In a speech at the Francis Crick Institute in London, the Health Secretary will launch an eight-week “call for evidence” to inform the 10-year plan, to be published later in the year.

“Let this be the day where we declare a national war on cancer,” he is expected to tell scientists, promising a plan which “learns the lessons from the pandemic” and applies the advances to cancer care.

The Health Secretary is expected to promise “a far-reaching look at how we want cancer care to be in 2032”, encompassing prevention, diagnosis, treatment and vaccines.

Officials are working on plans to intensify research on mRNA vaccines for cancer, bringing together learning gained through the pandemic, with expertise in cancer immunotherapy treatment.

In cancer, existing vaccines - such as the HPV jab - have largely been used to protect the body against viruses that cause cancers such as cervical disease.

But scientists have started trials of personalised vaccines which could be trained to recognise cancer cells - triggering an immune response should the disease return, which prevents its spread.

Mr Javid is expected to promise to boost the cancer workforce, in order to meet growing demand, as well as catch up with a backlog of cases which should have been diagnosed earlier.

Ministers have already promised that three in four cancers should be diagnosed at an early stage by 2028.

And health officials have promised to create 160 “faster diagnosis pathways” which aim to speed up diagnosis for cancer, and ensure fewer cases are missed.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “For years, progress in cancer has been too slow – and due to the disruption of the pandemic, we now face the prospect of that progress stalling. As a country we should not be satisfied with the pace of change to date, or the fact that the burden of cancer weighs heaviest on the most deprived in the UK.

“The Secretary of State has set out a bold ambition for cancer services. We must make the most of this opportunity, going further and faster than we have before. And critically, this ambition must be backed with funding and accountability.

"It has been an incredibly difficult time for people affected by this disease. Now is the moment to work harder, and work together, for the millions of us in the UK affected by cancer.”