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Thousands of NHS patients to access trials of personalised cancer vaccines

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Thousands of cancer patients in England are set to gain fast-tracked access to trials of personalised cancer vaccines following the launch of an NHS trial “matchmaking” service to help find new life-saving treatments.

The NHS today announced it has treated its first patient in England with a personalised vaccine against their bowel cancer, in a clinical trial part of NHS England’s new Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad.

In a national first, father-of-four Elliot Phebve received the developmental jab at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, one of several sites taking part in the colorectal cancer vaccine trial sponsored by BioNTech SE.

The German biotechnology company will tomorrow (1 June) present new preliminary data at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference in Chicago on how measuring circulating tumour DNA could potentially help early detection of colorectal cancer.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS 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.

“Access to clinical trials could provide another option for patients and their families, and I’m delighted that through our national launch pad we will be widening the opportunities to be part of these trials for many more people, with thousands of patients expected to be recruited in the next year.”

The vaccine trial involving Elliot is one of several that will be taking place in NHS trusts across the country to treat different types of cancer.

Thousands more patients are expected to benefit from NHS England’s new Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad, which will enable those wanting to participate in clinical trials to be fast-tracked to one of the nearest participating hospitals.

Patients who agree to take part have a sample of their cancer tissue and a blood test taken.

If they meet a clinical trial’s eligibility criteria, they can be referred to their nearest participating NHS site, meaning patients from hospitals across the country will find it easier than ever to take part in groundbreaking research.The investigational cancer vaccines evaluated in the colorectal cancer trial are based on mRNA – the same technology used for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine – and are created by analysing a patient’s tumour to identify mutations specific to their own cancer.

Using this information, medics then create an experimental individualised cancer vaccine.

The developmental vaccines are designed to induce an immune response that may prevent cancer from returning after surgery on the primary tumour, by stimulating the patient’s immune system to specifically recognise and potentially destroy any remaining cancer cells.

The investigational cancer vaccines being jointly developed by biopharmaceutical companies BioNTech and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, are still undergoing trials and have not yet been approved by regulators.

Thirty hospitals in England are already signed up to the Cancer Vaccine Launch Pad – one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world – with more sites joining the platform over the coming months.

The scheme aims to expand and work with a range of partners in the pharmaceutical industry to include patients across many cancer types who could potentially join a vaccine trial, such as those with pancreatic and lung cancer.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “Thanks to advances in care and treatment, cancer survival is at an all-time high in this country, but these vaccine trials could one day offer us a way of vaccinating people against their own cancer to help save more lives.

“The NHS is in a unique position to deliver this kind of world-leading research at size and scale, and as more of these trials get up and running at hospitals across the country, our national match-making service will ensure as many eligible patients as possible get the opportunity to access them.”

Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK, Iain Foulkes, added: “It’s incredibly exciting that patients in England are beginning to access personalised cancer vaccines for bowel cancer.

“This technology pioneers the use of mRNA-based vaccines to sensitise people’s immune system and in turn detect and target cancer at its earliest stages.

“Clinical trials like this are vital in helping more people live longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer.

“If successful, the vaccine will be a game changer in preventing the onset or return of bowel cancer.”

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