New ‘vaccine’ aims to cut chance of bowel cancer return

Person suffering from bowel cancer
-Credit: (Image: GETTY)

A new trial is researching a new approach to bowel cancer resurgence involving a personalised cancer vaccine. The trial has enrolled dozens of people who are expected to take part from 2026 onwards according to NHS England.

The trial at University College London Hospital will involve patients with stage two or three rectal cancer who had their tumour removed surgically but still have circulating tumour DNA in their blood. This DNA increases their risk of the cancer returning but personalised vaccines are being created based on this DNA too, using mutations specific to their cancer to make an immunotherapy unique to each patient.

BNT122, the vaccine being used in the groundbreaking new study, is believed to stimulate the immune system to help it recognise and destroy specific cancer cells expressing the same mutations. The vaccine was originally created by BioNTech, a German biotechnology firm that partnered with Pfizer to create one of the first Covid vaccines.

The study hopes this vaccine will prevent the cancer from returning after a patient has had their main tumour removed through surgery. Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at the NHS, said: “We know that even after a successful operation, cancers can sometimes return because a few cancer cells are left in the body, but using a vaccine to target those remaining cells may be a way to stop this happening.”

Bowel cancer specifically has a wide potential of recurrence, ranging from 7% to 42% chance depending on the stage of the cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. The study is part of NHS England’s Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad, which involves 30 hospitals at the moment and more due to join in the coming months.

The scheme works to fast-track patients to their cancer vaccines and involves a range of pharmaceutical companies with the potential to expand the work to other cancers such as pancreatic and lung.