What does the new cancer vaccine trial mean for a cure for the disease?

A cancer vaccine custom-made from patients’ own tumors has produced “really promising” results in one trial.

None of the eight patients with head and neck cancer, who were at high risk of relapse, saw their tumor come back four months after receiving the vaccine.

By comparison, two patients in the control group who did not receive the vaccine saw their cancer come back.

The vaccine, which uses technology similar to AstraZeneca’s Covid jab, uses DNA taken from each patient’s tumor.

The genetic extract is then inserted into a weakened virus used to deliver the vaccine inside the body, training the immune system to recognize and fight off the cancer if it comes back.

It is given as a weekly injection for six weeks, after which patients are given a booster dose every three weeks for a year.

The new figures are too low to draw firm conclusions, but the researchers say “all the data points in the right direction”.

The technology used to make the Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines is also being tested on cancer patients in the United States and Europe.

A cancer vaccine custom-made from patients’ own tumors has produced ‘really promising’ results in a trial of NHS patients. It is currently codenamed TG4050 (pictured)

Head and neck cancers are newly diagnosed each year in more than 12,000 people in the UK and 65,000 in the US. They kill just over 4,000 Britons a year and 14,000 Americans.

There are over 30 areas of the head and neck where cancer can develop, including the mouth and throat.

The new vaccine – codenamed TG4050 – was developed by the French company Transgene.

It is known as a “viral vector vaccine”, using a genetically modified vaccinia virus, the same family that causes smallpox.

The pathogen has been weakened to the point that it cannot cause disease and has been used in vaccination programs for decades.

A piece of tumor DNA is inserted into the virus so that when injected into the body, it can train the immune system to watch out for these cancer cells.

The hope is that the body will be able to recognize them and destroy them before they begin to multiply and form tumors.

Doctors are optimistic about the injection because it is so specific to each person’s cancer, although it will make it more expensive in the future.

Transgene’s chief medical officer, Dr Maud Brandely, said it offered patients “new hope” in the race to cure cancer.

Cancer mutations can vary from patient to patient, but by making a personalized vaccine for each patient, it should be more efficient to target these mutant cells.

The vaccine is given to patients after they have had surgery to remove tumors. It is hoped that the vaccine will catch cancer cells even before they can be found on a scan.

Brian Wright recently received his 10th dose of the vaccine in Clatterbridge and still has 10 doses left until January.

A year ago, Mr Wright underwent a 16-hour operation to get rid of a tumor in his mouth and swap his lower jaw with a bone in his leg, followed by weeks of demanding radiotherapy.

He told Sky News: “If you’ve had cancer in your throat and they say they’re going to inject you with that cancer, that just sounds like ‘oh no, it’s not’.

“But then they explained that it wouldn’t make you cancer, it would make your body immune to that cancer.”

Transgene plans to treat a total of 30 patients in the head and neck cancer trial.

Half will get the shot once their normal treatment is over, and the other half will get it when their cancer returns.

Consultant oncologist and director of clinical research at the Clatterbridge centre, Professor Christian Ottensmeier, told Sky News he was “cautiously optimistic”.

“I’m really hopeful, yes,” he said. ‘I’m very excited about it. All data points in the right direction.

“The immune system can see things that we can’t see on scans,” Professor Ottensmeier said, “it’s a lot smarter than human beings.”

“If we can train the immune system to select cells that would otherwise cause relapse at a time when we can’t even see them, then our patients’ chances of long-term survival are much higher.”

Another clinical trial of the jab on ovarian cancer patients in France and the United States is also showing promising results.

NEW JAB USES A GENETICALLY WEAKENED VIRUS TO TEACH YOUR CELLS HOW TO RECOGNIZE YOUR OLD CANCER

How it works?

Called TG4050, the vaccine is made by a French biotech company Transgene.

DNA taken from patients’ tumors is inserted into a harmless virus and injected into the patient.

The genetically modified virus teaches the patient’s immune system to seek out cancer cells, ideally eliminating them before there is even a lump.

Doctors trust the sting because it is specifically designed to treat the patient’s individual cancer, and the DNA of tumor cells differs from patient to patient.

What did the trial find?

None of the eight patients who received the jab had a cancer relapse four months later.

And two of the eight patients who did not receive a shot relapsed, suggesting that the vaccine has a protective effect.

However, the results are still too small to draw firm conclusions and more data is needed.

Is it related to Covid vaccines?

The Covid pandemic has accelerated vaccine development, with the team of Oxford scientists who made the AstraZeneca vaccine now using the same ‘viral vector’ method to fight prostate cancer.

Viral vector vaccines use a genetically modified vaccinia virus, from the same family that causes smallpox.

The pathogen has been weakened to the point that it cannot cause disease and has been used in vaccination programs for decades.

A piece of tumor DNA is inserted into the virus so that when injected into the body, it can train the immune system to watch out for these cancer cells.

The hope is that the body will be able to recognize them and destroy them before they begin to multiply and form tumors.

The mRNA technology from the Pfizer and Moderna Covid jabs has also been tested for other cancers in the United States and Europe.

Can it work for other cancers?

The vaccine is already being tested on ovarian cancer patients in France, five of whom have received the vaccine to date.

It is hoped that it will be used for more cancers in the future, if these trials prove successful.

What does this mean for cancer care in the future?

Transgene’s chief medical officer, Dr Maud Brandely, said the results show the vaccine could give patients more time in remission, offering cancer patients “new hope”..

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